Review: The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

The Miracle Inspector
Helen Smith

Tyger Books
Released Sept. 4, 2012
254 pages
Literary / Dystopian

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A darkly comic literary novel set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young couple, Lucas and Angela, try to escape from London - with disastrous consequences.

I received a copy of The Miracle Inspector as part of participating in the Pump Up Your Book’s blog tour for the dystopian title. I was intrigued by the idea of a dystopian novel that could be described as both darkly comic and literary. The idea felt much like A Handmaid’s Tale with a little more humor and less people being hung from brick walls. Unfortunately the book turned out to be nothing like what I had imagined.

The Miracle Inspector is bleak. It’s a bleak tale set in a bleak future London where creativity is banned, women are stuck to live boring isolated lives and the government has created such hyper-specific departments that a man’s sole purpose is to check up on people’s supposed miracles in hopes of finding one. I never really understood why or how the Miracle Inspector came about and what was the ultimate purpose. Considering it’s more of a literary novel, it’s possible the idea is purely allegorical and has no literal implications, but it still seemed odd.

This bleak world is filtered primarily through the guise of Lucas, the young Miracle Inspector, who isn’t all that likeable. He obsesses over a colleague’s wife to the point of visiting her in the guise of official business as he debated whether to sleep with her. He is a hard character to sympathize with, so when his fate takes a dark turn, I was more interested by his hallucinations rather than being concerned with his safety. He spends a good portion of the book jumping between mentally declaring his love for his young wife and vilifying her as doing devious things while he’s away from home. He’s not entirely stable.

Neither is Angela, though when she’s stuck at home without real contact with any other humans for her entire life, it’s much easier to sympathize with her having emotional stability issues. She finds a connection through the poetry and letters of Jesmond, a mysterious poet from Lucas’s past who only has one scene to show how bleak this city is for all things creative. He also acts as a figure of hope and love for Angela, two things her daily life lacks, and a figure of unwelcomed memories of the past for Lucas.

In this future London, areas are partitioned, so that people in London are stuck in London. People randomly go missing and the big dream is escape the confines and rules of London to the wonderful safe haven of Cornwall. Even speaking of such things is cause for disappearing in the night and yet Lucas and Angela long for an escape to the peaceful haven.

The most interesting part of the book is the scenes that take part outside of London. In most dystopian novels, the world has gone to hell everywhere, but the conditions of the cities and towns seen on the journey beyond London. It was interesting to see how having London cordoned off affects the towns surrounding it, how the people there choose to adapt and how their societies differ drastically. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the world outside London since that’s where most of the action took place. The parts that take place in London are more inside the characters’ heads and the world is feels half formed to allow for the characters to stand out most.

As with most literary novels, it takes a certain frame of mind to really get into the plot because it is more about characters than action. I just wasn’t in that headspace so it took me a little too long to get through this short novel and I found it disjointed. The dark humor mentioned in the synopsis was completely lost on me. I didn’t find any humor anywhere in this novel and perhaps my opinion of the book as a whole was diminished because I kept expecting dark humor and not finding it.

Helen Smith is a fantastic writer. She writes in a stream-of-consciousness style when telling the story from Lucas’s point of view that was interesting , and allowed her to give specific voices to each character whose point of view was used despite it all being told in the third person. I guess I just wasn’t in the head space to really dive into this character study where the qualities that drew me in as the synopsis where second thoughts to the actual story.