Dec 5, 2010

Book Review : The End of Marking Time by C.J. West.

The End of Marking TimeThe End of Marking Time by CJ West has been described by some as Prison Break meets 1984.  I am not a fan of Prison Break but I do like dystopian fiction and have a fondness for Orwell's work and I like fast paced thrillers ala Barry Eisler or Lee Childs.

Going by this description alone I was expecting a fast paced thriller, a story of oppression and revolution.  A book with that I wouldn't be able to put down and that might leave me with some points to ponder.

Coupled with the rave reviews that the book has been given and the knowledge that one of his other books has been optioned for film I was eagerly awaiting getting stuck into the novel.  These comments from CJ's Website pretty much some up the generally buzz surrounding this book.

"This book was the most original and inspired work of fiction I have read in years..."
     -   C. Clift, Jersey City, NJ
 "This book troubled me. Hours after I've finished it, I'm still thinking about it. There are no easy answers in this book."- Tony, Redmond, WA
This book troubles me though not, I suspect for the same reasons. 

The Story
Michale O'Connor a successful small time thief, hits the wrong house and does time, or rather he's given time only to have his prison transport attacked by jail breakers intent on freeing another prisoner.  

Michael is shot and the next thing he's waking from a coma 5 years later and the entire criminal justice system has been overhauled.  Prisoners are "free"  to walk the streets but have to complete education programs that will retrain them to act "appropriately".  Those that fail the better run educational programs(it's a free market) dissappear into less savory, illegal, dehumanizing programs.  

Relearners (the new name for convicts) are given a tracking anklet, and their every move is monitored. They must watch interactive television screens and complete their learning programs. There is no cash, the government gives you credit to live on but you must reform. 

The reader follows Michael from his release from hospital, to his painstakingly slow progress through the reeducation program. Until his death. 

The Good
The premise isn't that bad.  It's an idea worthy of exploration.  The writing is grammatically sound.

The Bad
I found the book to be too slowly paced and  preachy.  The majority of the book is told in first person point of view, a mistake in my opinion.  The reader spends too much time inside Michael's head listening to him and his observations.

By a third of the way into the book I was tired of Michaels's thinking through and commenting on his situation,  tired of the spelling out of everything for the reader.  Indeed I felt I was being led through the implications of this new  system.  A system that while outlined logically failed to suspend my disbelief.

I never developed any feelings toward the main character, his death at the end had no emotional impact for me.

The Ugly
I sense that CJ was making comment on the American Criminal Justice System.  Indeed his afterword supports this, as well as comments I viewed while perusing Amazon.  For example:

This book was intended to be disturbing to highlight the seriousness of the problems within our prison system. The 'rules' in the reeducation program are designed to keep Michael off balance to allow his actions to be measured in an environment where he needs to make what he believes to be important decisions. The 'rules' are also meant as a stark contrast to the current system which is gamed by inmates who sue the government for minor inconveniences.

I think  to comment on the American Justice system,  a non-fiction book would have been a much better vehicle.

The End of Marking Time failed for me to do what good fiction should do, and that is, first and  foremost entertain.   Though looking at the reviews via Amazon and Goodreads it seems my opinion is in the minority.

Disclaimer:  This review is based upon ebook provided by the Author at no cost to myself.


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