***Trigger Warning: gun violence***
“A lone gunman takes the women and doctors at a controversial abortion clinic hostage. Nobody has ended up there by choice. As the tense negotiation for their release unfolds, hour by crucial hour back in time through the day that brought the hostages and their captor to this moment, every certainty is questioned, every judgement thrown into sharp relief.
Because matters of life and death look very different when you, or the ones you love, are staring down the barrel of a gun…“
As soon as I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. I actually saw it whilst wandering round Waterstones in Birmingham (book shops are one of my happy places, I could spend hours perusing the shelves) and as Christmas was coming up, I put it straight on my list.
I’ve read a few of Jodi Picoult’s books, one of my favourites being Small Great Things which I really recommend, so I knew I’d most likely enjoy this. But the thing that drew me towards this book the most was its subject matter. As the synopsis said, this book is set in a abortion clinic as a gunman takes its occupants hostage. I’d recently completed my undergraduate dissertation which, briefly, was about the reform of the UK’s abortion law in the 1960’s so it was definitely in the forefront of my mind at the time.
In general, this book is most definitely a page turner. The nature of the hostage and gunman situation fuels a need to know what happens. I found that I had to keep reading chapter after chapter so I could find out how the situation was resolved in the end. It is, of course, quite an intense read with a lot of moral quandary and some very distressing moments, but its also, in my opinion, a necessary read because of its power to make you feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the topics covered are very real and happen often, especially in the US in which this book is set.
The actual writing of this book is also very interesting. The story is told in reverse, which is odd at first as you almost find out what happens at the end at the start, but it’s a very clever way of telling the story. It goes backwards in time, starting with the gunman holding the occupants of the clinic hostage, to then cover when he entered, why the occupants entered and their reasons for doing so. At the end, it switches back to ‘current time’ to show how the situation is resolved. I’ve never read a book that has done this before and I think it was a pretty remarkable way of storytelling.
This novel shows excellent character exploration as well. I felt that each character had a voice and their backgrounds, relationships and, especially, their reasons for being at the clinic that day, were shown very well. One of the best things about this story was the focus on relationships; you had parents and children, aunts, siblings, strangers, doctors and patients, colleagues, and each was portrayed brilliantly, especially exercised in the context of the strain and pressure put on these relationships in the undeniably terrifying and life changing situation they were in. On top of that, there was some interesting twists and unpredictable links between characters that you just didn’t see coming which really added to the overall excellence of the novel.
Jodi Picoult often focuses on very moral-based topics in her novels, and this wasn’t any different. For me, one of the most compelling things about this story was the way Picoult explores all the different reasons for a person to attend an abortion clinic and of course, the different moral thoughts surrounding this present in society. She explored medical reasons, religious reasons, and the fact that women deserve a choice. She also showed that there are other reasons besides abortion for being in that clinic, such as contraception and gynaecological issues. She even explored the reasons why the gunman was there. In general, the story was a complex exploration of reasons why, reasons why not, and a wider picture of society, religion, medicine and family.
I personally believe free access and the choice to access necessary facilities is paramount, and I feel that this message was conveyed in the novel. Saying this, whilst most people have quite strong views on this issue, this novel doesn’t really draw conclusions or take a particularly evident viewpoint on the whole topic. I think it thoroughly considers a range of ideas which makes it an interesting read.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. As I said, I love Jodi Picoult’s work and I think she’s a brilliant writer. The topic of this book is of great interest and importance to me and I don’t think this is a story I’ll forget in a hurry. Whilst I think this is an important read for a lot of people, if it’s not your thing, I would really recommend checking out some of her other work.
Have you read this book? Or anything by Jodi Picoult? Let me know in the comments.