Nine years ago he told me what I am. He told me about the Weavers in London. About how ordinary people, who can’t bear the idea of losing somebody they love, can ask the Weavers to make an echo. He told me how they spend weeks, sometimes months, making each of us. When they’re done, we live. We breathe. Echoes. And one day, if our others die and we are wanted, we replace them.
– (Chapter 1, “Other”)
So, The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna was first published in August 2012. For this review I used my personal copy, not a publisher’s copy, not from the library, all mine, blah, blah.
Now on to the good stuff!
As with the last book I chose to review, this one has a pretty interesting “what if” question. What if there was an almost-underground society of people who could weave clones for other, super-rich people? But the process of weaving is still being perfected. The girl who would one day replace Amarra (which, by the way, means “immortal” or “eternal” in Sanskrit because Mandanna is full of wry wit), does not like history, enjoys art, says “telly” and “crisps” (due to being raised in Cumbria, England) instead of “TV” and “chips” (as Amarra does, being a resident of Bangalore, India). She also wants to be called Eva, after a temperamental elephant at the zoo.
Steph mentions that a true dystopia should “tease out how easily (a) utopia slips into dystopia”. In that sense, The Lost Girl really is a dystopia. It starts off with the insanely idealistic notion of bringing someone back from the dead. We first get a sense of the system slipping when Eva’s guardians (or “familiars”) frequently allow her to break certain rules and turn a blind eye to her expressions of individuality. It only gets worse when Amarra dies and Eva moves in with her family in Bangalore. The family is divided in their understanding of who she is, and if Eva does not play her part convincingly she could be sent back to the Loom to be unmade. And that’s if the Hunters don’t get her first. (Obviously, with Weavers playing god, there are people who disagree with the Loom’s existence and view all echoes as evil, unnatural things.)
Although Mandanna cites Frankenstein as her source of inspiration, and you definitely see some clever nods to Shelley’s masterpiece, lots of things about the book remind me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Or maybe the latter two also owe their ideas to Shelley’s work? In any case, the world is an interesting mix of truths hidden in plain sight (i.e. the presence of the Loom in London) and the active hiding of these truths (i.e. the fact that India has banned echoes). And Eva, being the only echo she knows, and isolated from the people she loves, has to navigate this new life by herself.
Why You May Like This One: As with most of the books I tend to pick, it does some very interesting things with gender. For example, Eva first wakes up to the idea of agency when she thinks about Sean (one of her familiars and a love interest) and his future:
He could be anything. Anything he wants to be.
While she notes bitterly about herself and others like her:
(Weavers) make sure we grow up knowing, always, that we belong to them.
I also love, love, love the references to Frankenstein. Eva has an interesting opinion on the classic and its ending, which kind of dictates how you feel about Eva’s story and ending. While you may not be entirely convinced by Eva’s argument, you have to admit that is a clever way to write a book … I mean, to attempt to construct the way readers feel about the ending, without actually being explicit about it is pretty awesome. (I’m also a bit tired of unarguably happy endings for dystopic books, so yay for complicated endings!) And oh yes, person of colour as the protagonist. It’s also interesting because Eva and Amarra both have mixed identities in more ways than one and the book explores almost all of them. And finally, I just have to mention that Mandanna’s prose is pretty damn fantastic. I loved the sensory details she throws out there and I loved Eva’s quiet observations*:
It reminds me of those late evenings at the cottage, when he would sit on the steps with his cigar and Ophelia would sit next to him and fish for a cigarette in her bag and the smell of smoke would waft into the house and mingle with Mina Ma’s hand cream and the tea brewing in the kitchen.
I don’t want to be an echo, and I don’t even like the smell of cigars/cigarettes, but reading this on a rainy November evening kind of … makes me wish I was there?
Why You May Not Like This One: It ends … well, let’s just say, depending on the kind of person you are, you may or may not want a sequel? I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to be cryptic about this one. Also, I’m not a fan of the romance
because I am soulless. I didn’t like Ray (who was Amarra’s boyfriend), and I didn’t really like Sean, either (Eva’s crush). I did like Sean more than Ray, so that’s something. And too frequently, I found that Eva did things only to prove a point to a man she wishes would be a real father-figure. I got a vindictive pleasure out of reading the sharp things that Matthew said because I wanted Eva to stop pleading for his help.
I’m starting to think that was very unfair of me.
I think I just wanted Eva to be Katniss, and she’s just not. I mean, she was raised in a cottage as a clone and never taught any real skills, so what in the hell was I expecting!? Secret ninja skills?! Ugh. I’m such a silly person.
Anyway, point being that despite the drama, I think I would recommend this book.
*On a personal note, I found myself relishing all the details of teenage life in Bangalore. I lived in Hyderabad briefly, which is not the same but pretty close in terms of food at least, and when I closed the book all I wanted was a masala dosa and Devil’s Own.