The Ship, by Antonia Honeywell
Genre: Dystopia / Speculative Fiction
Publication date: Coming April 2017, Orbit (first published 2015)
What it’s about
From the official blurb: Lalla has grown up sheltered from the chaos amid the ruins of civilization. But things are getting more dangerous outside. People are killing each other for husks of bread, and the police are detaining anyone without an identification card. On her sixteenth birthday, Lalla’s father decides it’s time to use their escape route–a ship he’s built that is only big enough to save five hundred people.
What I thought of it
The Ship is contemporary philosophy woven into a coming-of-age dystopian fiction story. If I was a high school teacher I’d want this on the curriculum.
The world seems to be nearing its end. The seas have risen, the soil is barren and there appears to be no hope of survival on land.
But there are people still surviving. The end hasn’t actually arrived. So is it right that Lalla, her father and 497 other people escape the chaos and horror aboard the ship, taking precious rations with them?
The story is somewhat familiar. It’s a 21st-century version of Noah’s Ark – without a deity, and seen through the eyes of a young girl who isn’t entirely sure she wants to be saved. Lalla just wants her old, sheltered, life back. Her parents made sure she didn’t experience the horror and chaos so she now experiences none of the relief and gratitude that the other inhabitants of the ship feel towards Michael Paul – their saviour, Lalla’s father.
I spent most of this book wanting grab passersby and hold philosophical discussions with them. These were my questions.
Is it right to shelter our children from the true state of the world they live in?
It’s natural to want to protect our children from many of the harsh aspects of life (especially if you happen to live in a future dystopia…). But how can we expect them to live in the world or – better yet – feel motivated to actually improve their world if they don’t understand what’s wrong with it?
Surely it’s best to help them understand the suffering of others – even if their own life is relatively comfortable – so that they can learn and take action.
Are we obliged to help others and risk death or is it okay to run and live?
Most of us aren’t faced with such an extreme choice – to run back into the burning building and save a total stranger, or stay outside and stay safe. But we are faced with choices every day about turning away from pain and suffering to preserve our own happiness.
Turn off the news from Aleppo – it’s too tragic and what can we do anyway?
Skip past the latest Facebook article about a woman murdered by her intimate partner – nobody’s trying to personally attack me, so it’s not my problem.
Change the topic when a colleague opens up about their struggle with mental illness – that’s for their friends and family to deal with, right?
To an extent these statements are all true – we can’t be expected to take on the entire world’s pain and suffering or we’d simply fall apart under the weight.
But where is the right balance between helping others and enjoying a comfortable, peaceful life?
What’s more important – happiness or hope?
I really loved this dilemma that The Ship poses. By leaving London, the ship’s inhabitants have given up hope that London can survive. They have turned their backs and chosen to leave everything – including their memories of loved ones – behind them.
It’s difficult to explain this dilemma in greater detail without plot spoilers, but consider this – you can be happy and at peace if you choose to stick your head in the sand and completely ignore the chaos and horror. Or you can choose to give up your total happiness and try to do something about it.
You can’t do both – so which should you do?
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