Friday 29 May 2020

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith @evecsmith #TheWaitingRooms @OrendaBooks #BookReview

Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’ … hospitals where no one ever gets well.

Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.

Sweeping from an all-too-real modern Britain to a pre-crisis South Africa, The Waiting Rooms is epic in scope, richly populated with unforgettable characters, and a tense, haunting vision of a future that is only a few mutations away.

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith is published by Orenda Books; ebook 9 April 2020, and paperback on 9 July 2020. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

“Antimicrobial resistance is an invisible pandemic.”
— Mariangela Simao, The World Health Organisation

It may not be the best time to read The Waiting Rooms, or it could be the most perfect time. For this is a novel that will chill any reader right to the bone. What may have been merely a speculative fiction read just a few months ago has become, what really could be, a story of our time.

Before the COVID19 pandemic hit, I received my pre-publication proof of The Waiting Rooms and was instantly intrigued. I'm a fan of the most darkest and dystopian fiction; Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time writing heroes and The Handmaid's Tale is probably the best book I ever read, and Eve Smith and The Waiting Rooms really do challenge that long-held crown, for me.

Set in London, and featuring lead character Kate, the story opens twenty years post-Crisis. What was the Crisis you may ask, and how has it changed the world?

The Crisis was a global pandemic, millions died and life as it was known is merely a shadow in the past. Antibiotic resistance means that nobody over the age of seventy is ever offered antibiotics, and the older we get, the more prone we are to infection. A scratch from your much-loved cat can kill you. A chest infection spells the end. Of course, there are many people who oppose this, and there are regular demonstrations, and as generally healthy people get nearer and nearer to what is really a cut-off age, their fear increases.

Kate is a nurse. Every day she wears personal protective equipment and showers before entering certain areas of the hospital where she assists people to die. These people have signed to say that they agree that they must die, and in the hospital where Kate works, it's all very calm and very civil. 

Kate was adopted as a baby.  Her adoptive mother has recently died and she's decided that it is time to track down her birth mother. Not an easy decision, and she's going to uncover far far more than she expected. 

Also central to the plot is Lily who is nearing seventy and lives in one of the better 'retirement' homes. She's a character with a history, and this clever author goes back, way before the Crisis and allows the readers to learn so much about her, about what shaped her and also so much more about the beginnings of the Crisis itself.

Throughout this darkest of stories, with such an horrific and terrifying premise, the author writes with a beauty and skill that is quite breathtaking. Her characters are perfectly formed, and the reader feels a real empathy for them, although there are doubts cast along the way which only adds to the feeling of tension that increases chapter by chapter. 

The Waiting Rooms is frighteningly plausible, it really could be our reality, especially at the moment when we have no idea just how the current pandemic will shape our future. The author takes us into the world of drug development and experimentation and touches on areas of exploitation that could generate many conspiracy theories, yet could also be the truth, but not as we know it.

This novel is shockingly brilliant, and I devoured it. It is thought provoking yet written with such an exquisite touch and is a devastating yet eye-opening story of how humanity and science merge.

So very powerful, and comes very highly recommended by me.

Eve Smith's debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Eve writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills.
Eve's flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.
Eve's previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas, and she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places. A Modern Languages graduate from Oxford, she returned to Oxfordshire fifteen years ago to set up home with her husband.
When she's not writing, she's chasing across fields after her dog, attempting to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.
Follow Eve: @evecsmith &

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