The Testament of Jessie Lamb
by Jane Rogers FICTION 820 ROG
The surprise winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2012, The Testament of Jessie Lamb is Rogers’ first foray into science fiction. Jessie’s world has changed vastly in a short amount of time. A virus, released by unknown biological terrorists, has infected everyone on earth. But the dormant virus only becomes active when a woman is pregnant, activating a prion disease that quickly causes the mother’s brain to eat away at itself, killing her and the unborn child. Scientists have dubbed the virus Maternal Death Syndrome, and there is no treatment. The few babies born before the release of MDS will be the last: there will be no new parents and children in Jessie’s lifetime; the human race will gradually die out. While researchers race furiously to find a cure and a way to produce new healthy babies, Jessie and her friends aren’t taking the news lying down. Through her scientist father’s research, Jessie learns of a possible way to circumvent MDS, for new uninfected babies to be born – though at the cost of the mothers’ lives. The result of Jessie’s obsession with these creepily named ‘Sleeping Beauties’ is where we find her as the book opens – chained to a radiator by her father, kept prisoner. But Jessie is not giving up on her quest to make a difference; not without a fight.
As Jessie’s story progresses, the reader becomes more and more uneasy about her choices. Her inherent narcissism means that she can’t see the effects her mission to become a Sleeping Beauty is having on her family and friends: she is too blinded by her chance to save the world. Her drive to produce life through her own death is what has caused her father to resort to imprisoning her, and this single-mindedness adds a sense of fatalism to the book that is as interesting as it is unsettling.
Rogers’ Booker Prize-longlisted novel is an exciting, readable book that traverses the personal, scientific and political, and will interest even readers who are not traditional fans of the speculative fiction genre.