29 July 2011

Michael Frayn, A Very Private Life, 1968

Though it depicts a future dystopia, A Very Private Life is actually less a science fiction novel and more a futurist fairy tale. The young female protagonist Uncumber lives in a sterile underground world in which personal privacy is paramount, being a cultural reaction against the invasions of privacy that began in the 20th century. Emotions must be drug-induced to be acceptable, babies are made at the factory when you provide the ingredients, and dark glasses are the only item of clothing because they help keep your feelings to yourself. But, being a bit of a rebel, Uncumber looks for something more tactile and goes on her way to the outside world in search of Noli, a surface-living man she accidentally encountered on her holovision TV. He turns out to be a selfish low class polygamist among other things, and her situation get worse from there. As an allegory for the dangers of withdrawal from the world A Very Private Life works well but the story never really comes alive as anything other than a mild comedy of manners. Yes, life is always far more complex than we can perceive from a naïve standpoint, but that observation seems self-evident from the beginning and the development of this theme never really moves beyond second gear.  PY


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