The Stolen: Two Short Stories by Michelle Browne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Fields and The Word-Thieves slightly freaked me out. Both stories have an underlying theme of society/‘employers’ controlling their citizens/workers. A small warning: the author drops you into both worlds with little set up. No handholding. Nor are there a whole load of answers – makes you think.
The Fields is frightening, relatively short, and sometimes hard to understand. I just grasped the societal make up of privileged owners and their families versus their slaves. What came over loud and clear is how petty rules can assume the importance of real crimes, such as murder and rape. The real crime in The Fields is the supposed rehabilitation, a theme echoed in The Word Thieves.
In The Word-Thieves the POV is not always clear, but the story is clearly Sarah’s. She edits literary works, removing anything distasteful that the Io’s ruling body has decreed corrupting. Io is supposed to be a world of peace and harmony as preached by its ‘guru bible’. Toby is an old friend. His arrival sufficiently disturbs Sarah’s façade of coping for her to broadcast her true feelings, thus attracting unwanted attention.
What follows is a harrowing account of the rehabilitation that awaits those who challenge a state’s utopian view. When a rebellious Sarah continues to scratch the surface she exposes the dark and violent hypocrisy supporting Io’s preferred state of being, i.e. unthinking adherence to goodness. The real tragedy of this story is that the purity of the philosophy underlying Io’s aspirational goal has been eradicated through its implementation by narrow-minded, self-righteous zealots. (I only glimpsed these zealots through their minion’s actions, but I know they exist in the background. Probably reclining in some sun-soaked villa while exceeding the alcohol restrictions imposed for everyone else’s own good.)
This is where this book earns its five stars from me. The Word-Thieves is scary because it explores societies that have lived, died, and flourish today. Such societies will no doubt continue to arise wherever there are people who think they know better than the common man. This book screams out why free speech, open justice, and a huge dose of common sense, are such precious commodities to be protected.
I encourage every jobsworth – with the guts to take a good, hard look at themselves – to read these two stories and then consider just how far they might be prepared to go. Everyone else read it and note why you need to keep these jobsworths in their place.
‘In their place.’ See, this is how it starts . . .
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