Audiobook Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

7 12 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 15 Min’

Genre: Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

Grade: A-

Back when I was in college I took a class with my favorite professor called, “Women in Politics.” At this point in my life, I was still holding on to many of the beliefs that my upbringing in a very conservative church had taught me. In one of the first classes we discussed coverture and how woman were viewed as property even within English Common law. We leaned that “The Rule of Thumb” was believed by some to be a reference to a legal ruling where a judge said it was illegal to beat your wife with a stitch thicker than the size of your thumb. This class was a real turning point in my development, particular on gender issues. Before this, I grew up in a church where our Pastor’s wife bragged about calling her husband “Lord and Master” and women were told they could not divorce their husbands, even if they were abusive. This year there has been a lot of talk about the “War on Women.” While I have no sympathy for men who talk about legitimate rape and attempt to legislate women health issues without bothering to be informed, I understand where these things come from. I remember being at a Christian music festival, where a Pro-Life speaker explained that when a woman is raped, her body is flooded with so many hormones that pregnancy is nearly impossible. I am sure plenty of people left that speech believing this, and for me, I had to actually research the issue to discover its fallacy. I strive to have an open mind on issues, but I learn one fact pretty early. I am a man, and no matter how much I understand Women’s issues intellectually, I will never understand them emotionally. I think much of my open-mindedness comes from the fact that I was a reader. I read books like The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Gift Upon the Shore that allowed me to gain some level of emotional awareness of these issues that lead to me questioning much of what I was taught. Sometimes, I  feel if it wasn’t for books, I may not have been able to escape from the trappings of misogyny that was so prevalent in my youth.

When a virus is released causing pregnancy to become a death sentence for woman, society is sent into turmoil. With the potential of being the final generation, young adults rebel against the adult society that brought war, environmental disasters and the gradual extinction of the human race. Within the chaos, one young woman is searching for some way she can make a difference. As she attempts to find her place amongst different movements, she finally figures a way she can help. Yet, this decision may require the ultimate sacrifice. The Testament of Jess Lamb is a frustrating, emotional and brilliant thought experiment that caused me to strip down my responses to many different issues, and reevaluate them in the light of the tale. In order to give a proper appraisal of this novel, I have to look at it from two different vantage points, one as a piece of speculative fiction, and the other as a social commentary. The Testament of Jesse Lamb is the sort of slow boil apocalypse that are becoming prevalent within the genre. Instead of one big bang, the apocalypse comes more gradually. The novel is an intimate look at the slow breakdown of society through the eyes of one young girl. While I loved this world Rogers’ created, and found it quite fascinating, filtering it through one character makes the experience limiting. I would have loved to see a broader look at this world, but I don’t think it would have worked as well within the requirements of this story. As a piece of social commentary, I have to admit, I struggled, but I think in a good way. Jessie Lamb was a frustrating character for me. I think if I had read this novel when I was younger I would have seen her as a noble character, perhaps even heroic. Yet, today I couldn’t help by find her a bit foolish. What I found interesting was the juxtaposition between the movements she became involved with, Animal rights, Feminism, and Scientific with the thought process she used to come to her decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is it really highlighted just how people talk to each others. The way Jesse came to her decisions seemed almost parallel to religious enlightenment, yet, her father, and others tried to dissuade her using almost a cold scientific reasoning that, when seen through her internal dialogue, came off quite patronizing. Despite my frustration with her, I liked Jessie Lamb as a character, which just made it harder to accept what she was doing. Yet, I was very uncomfortable in my reactions, wondering if my distaste for her choice was due to some lingering misogyny or even a patronizing view of youth. I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

This is my second experience with Fiona Hardingham as a narrator and the first experience didn’t go so well, yet not due to any problem with her narration. This was why I was happy to see that she was handling the narration of this audiobook. Hardingham gives a wonderful performance, worthy of the novel. The novel is told from the first person perspective of Jesse and Hardingham managed to find the right balance between innocent naiveté and gravitas that was appropriate for the character. It was great to hear her transition from almost a flighty teenager, wondering if she should dye her hair, or if the boy she likes liked her back, to a young adult contemplating her place amongst a dying species. Hardingham made me feel connected with not just the main character, but many of the peripheral characters as well. Her characterizations were subtle but distinct, and she did a great job in differentiating between Jesse’s internal and external dialogue, which was a key element for this story. Overall, The Testament of Jessie Lamb was a thought provoking novel that is enhanced by the excellent performance of the narrator.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. To find more posts, click on the banner below.

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One response

8 12 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I got frustrated with Jessie too, throughout the book, she was just so naive! You’re right that her dad was very patronizing, but then again she is younger than our age of consent… I sort of think that nobody was right, here.

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