First published back in April of 2013, British author James Smythe’s third novel was the bleak and unsettlingly claustrophobic tale entitled ‘The Machine’.

DLS Synopsis:
Ever since her husband, Vic McAdams, had been taken from her, Beth McAdams’ existence had been trapped within a lonely and emotionless vacuum.  That’s not to say that her husband was dead or missing in action.  His body was alive, lying quietly in a bed in a special home nearby.  But that wasn’t her husband any more.  That shell of a man wasn’t the tough solider that Beth had married.

For the machine had taken away everything that had made up who Vic was.  Not the flesh and blood, but everything that had been in his mind.  His thoughts, feelings, memories and the intricate pieces that together had made up his personality.  Everything that made him, him.

After Vic had been wounded by a lump of shrapnel from a home-made bomb whilst he was sweeping an abandoned hospital, it was his mind that had suffered the worst of it.  He’d returned home, but found himself reacting to the post-traumatic stress.  And that stress seeped out of him in violence.  Violence towards his very own wife.  And so they agreed to do something about it.  To seek help.

They had reassured Vic and Beth that they could simply erase the memories and pain from his mind.  With the machine they had built, they could purge away the past.  And with those painful memories, they could commit them to a harddrive and replace what had been removed with false memories.

But something went wrong.  And those that had undergone the experimental treatment were no longer themselves.  They had been stripped of everything that made them who they were and reduced them to something empty of anything.  Void of life.

But Beth had heard of a way in which she might be able to bring her husband back.  To rebuild what had been taken from him.  To replenish his mind of everything that had been stored away on the harddrive.  To re-make him to what he once was.

Beth now had her own machine.  And it was time to bring back her husband…

DLS Review:
Set on the Isle Of Wight sometime in the not-too-distant future, whereby the effect of global warming has changed the shape of the UK somewhat, Smythe’s dark and claustrophobic tale expels a particularly down-trodden and depressive mood to enwrap what is essentially a storyline that spirals down into an ever-descending void of emptiness.

That’s not to say that Smythe doesn’t toy with the idea of hope every now and again.  But it’s only ever just a faint flicker underneath the gloomy blanket of misery that permanently hangs over the principal character of Beth.

Furthermore, the introduction of a fresh new face on the island, in the temporary teacher Laura, adds an interesting new layer to the developing psychological storyline.  Laura is someone who is desperate for friendship.  And with her comes the offer of support and help.  But with this sympathetic character come questions and a clever catalyst for the quickly snowballing events.

The storyline is built around the machine doing three principal functions – Purge, Commit and Replenish.  That is, removing the patient’s memories, committing the memories to the machine’s harddrive and then replenishing the patient with false memories to ‘fill the gaps’.  And indeed, Smythe utilises these principal stages to further construct his entire novel from – splitting the book into three distinct parts - detailing how Vic’s mind was purged, then reliving the memories which were committed to the harddrive, and finally replenishing his damaged and empty mind.  Only this time it’s putting the original ‘true’ memories back.

This is very much a story that creeps under the skin as it examines the human psyche by demolishing it to ultimately see what’s left standing.  Branded ‘a Frankenstein tale for the 21st Century’, the story reads like something created by David Cronenberg that blends together the likes of Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1818) with Shozin Fukui’s ‘964 Pinocchio’ (1991) along with elements from Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’ (1949).

Yes it’s bleak.  Yes it’s wrapped in a thick mist of misery.  And yes it drags the reader down with it.  But encased in that oppressive fog of desperation and constant doubt is something that is so very human.  In its callous destruction of what makes us who we are, Smythe has highlighted the fragile inter-woven complexities that make up the human psyche.  And with it Smythe allows a very human message to breath.

Smythe’s story is a very confined and oppressively contained tale.  It’s not an easy read.  The constant misery of the setting and Beth’s desperation to bring back her husband is a weight that hangs over everything.  And it’s a near-palpable atmosphere that is painted so skilfully by Smythe.

The novel runs for a total of 320 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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