Matt Haig is, currently, going the right way about adding himself to my list of authors who are yet to write a book I dislike. I haven’t read everything he has written but I enjoyed both The Radleys (an everyday story of a very English vampire family) and The Humans (an alien sent to destroy all evidence of a mathematician’s work is infected with humanity) and now I can add Echo Boy to the list.
This is classified as a young adult/teen novel and the main characters are aged appropriately but don’t let this put you off. I know some adult readers are reluctant to try YA fiction but personally I think they are missing out – it isn’t all hormone-fuelled romance and sparkly vampires in the teen section of the shop! This book fits in with one of the more interesting (to me) themes – dystopic fiction, especially where the problems stem from environmental disaster – as well as exploring what it means to be human and how power corrupts. And all this without sounding ‘preachy’ or ‘worthy’…
The book opens with the heroine, Audrey, living with her parents and a kind of robotic housekeeper (known as an Echo) in the North of England. The landscape is almost unrecognisable – rising sea levels mean that homes are built on stilts 50 metres high – but some things are very familiar (it has been raining for 4 months…..). I liked Audrey’s relationship with her parents – she obviously loves them, is embarrassed by them, proud of them and rebels mildly against them – although it doesn’t last long: they are killed in the opening pages. Audrey then travels to London to live under the protection of her Uncle – an immensely rich and powerful industrialist whose company makes, among other things, Echoes. Echoes are more than robots – they appear to be almost human, only their perfection makes them different – but they are less than human because they are emotionless. They are also meant to be unable to harm their human masters but this is certainly not Audrey’s experience.
I won’t go too deeply into the plot – too hard not to give spoilers – but I will say that the story rattles along at a very fast pace. There is tragedy, danger, love and suspense. Audrey is a feisty heroine and Daniel, the Echo Boy of the title, is an interesting hero. He learns how to be human and Audrey, like so many teenagers before her, learns that things are never as black and white as they seem.