3 September 2007

Susan Hillmore, Malaria, 2000

Whereas humanity is often described as a cancer on the planet, Susan Hillmore seems to prefer the analogy of a fever in this not-quite-post-modern descendent of Milton’s Paradise Lost. One of the world’s last surviving baby elephants is separated from its mother and taken to London Zoo as a self-serving political gift from the once-lush fictional island of Mannar, as it collapses into anarchy. The plight of the elephants is symbolic of the all-encompassing decay that seems to grip all characters – arrogant colonials or put-upon locals – all inadequate people, and, it must be said, inadequately sketched-out. Malaria is also only half the story it could have been if it were given a more specific sense of time and place: it has all the feel of being set in a fictional African nation though it is only through the scantest of details that its Asian location later becomes apparent. This was a distraction too far for me, and the dysfunctional setting of this rather uneven story somehow reminds me more of J.G. Ballard than John Brunner, though it really ought to be the other way round.  PY


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