Dystopian Hull. That may sound like a tautology, but the imagined future in Sour Fruit is more real than many of us might want to believe. Eli Allison’s new speculative fiction novel follows the misfortunes of a teenage girl kidnapped to be trafficked.
Initially, I thought that the book was almost a set of short stories with the same two characters passing through each setting and interacting with a different group of characters in each one. Whilst that is the case, Allison (Twitter handle @EliAllison3) has done a good job of finally weaving the slightly disconnected sections into a coherent story. But, rather like Great Expectations, it all only comes together right at the end. Actually, that’s about the only similarity with the Dickens classic – this is more like Dismal Expectations. Which is not a problem – that’s the whole atmosphere of the story, it’s supposed to be dismal. Hmm, I wonder if that’s how Hull sees itself: ‘we’re supposed to be dismal’ ? The natural Yorkshire dialect of some of the characters is kept unobtrusive, but sometimes that meant that when it did appear it was actually a bit surprising.
Milton the self-styled king of Kingston rules the disengaged, disenfranchised, disenchanted masses who swarm in the underbelly of society. It’s an elites separate from proles society in the extreme. Those masses eke out a life in a city that struggles to supply water and food. The INCs (empowered and wealthy citizens) appear to have pushed the VOIDs (the dregs, with no legal rights as citizens, not even really classified as citizens) into Kingston, locked the door and thrown away the key. The de facto imprisonment is enforced by privately outsourced police and live-rounds-drones, so that they are kept out of sight, out of mind, and out of interest.
Onion is the young female heroine of the story. She suffers not-quite-Stockholm syndrome. Or actually maybe it really is Stockholm; or perhaps not actually relevant. The relationship with Rhea, Onion’s jailer-cum-companion who becomes in the end … actually no spoilers … is consistently strained and mis-trusting. It is grim and frustrating, one of those shout at the page/screen type relationships where you are rooting for them to become friends and help each other. And every time you think they’ve moved that close, Onion tries an escape, or Rhea tries to sell her out. By the end, you aren’t sure whether they can ever overcome their past deceits to each other, or indeed whether you now want them to. This relationship is the key high point in Sour Fruit, and is so deftly played by Allison that you don’t even really notice it happening. And for that, I take my hat off to her!
You can visit Eli Allison’s website at https://www.eli-allison.com/