I’ve just finished Annabel Smith’s third novel, ‘The Ark’. I loved her second novel, ‘Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, which I reviewed here, and which is about to be released in the US as ‘Whisky and Charlie’.
‘The Ark’ is no ordinary novel, and to say I read it doesn’t quite sum up the experience of this book, as it is an experience more than a read.
It’s written in epistolary form—emails, minutes of meetings, and news articles. There’s also a website, thearkbook.com, with video of inside the Ark and audio of conversations.
On the website, you can also upload your fan fiction. Together, the book and the website create the world of the Ark, and add a whole new dimension to its enjoyment.
The book is set in the years 2041-2043. The ‘Ark’ itself is a facility set up in a bunker at the base of Mt Kosciusko in order to store billions of seeds under the National Arboreal Protection Facility. It’s where the seeds will be kept until the Earth can regenerate back to health, and they can be replanted, and it’s the only means for plant life to survive.
‘The Ark Manifesto
The Ark exists to protect the seeds. The seeds are protected to enhance the future of human life on earth. Without our protection, the seeds cannot survive. The seeds do not have higher value than the lives of those who protect them, rather the relationship is symbiotic: each nurtures the other …’
The outside world is in Chaos and twenty-six people, scientists and their families, have been chosen to live together inside the Ark in this top-secret mission. The residents are soon told by the Project Manager, Aiden Fox, that the Ark’s time-delay locks will be activated for their own protection, and they will be locked inside the bunker for sixty days.
Through emails and letters, via servers with creative trade names such as ‘Gopher’ and ‘Parlez vite’, the reader learns of the dispute developing between Aiden and the company that owns the Ark, SynBioTec. SynBioTec are shocked by Aiden’s decision to lock the Ark, and the reader begins to wonder what’s really going on, who is scare-mongering …
The book is divided into sections that concentrate on a different character. I particularly liked the section on Ava, the wife of one of the scientists, who suspects early on that Aiden might be dangerous, but even her husband won’t believe her. Aiden denies everything Ava says, and becomes concerned for her mental instability:
‘Alex, a delicate matter—I’m concerned about Ava’s mental state—I think all the pressure from Longrigg is making her a little unstable. I know your wife is friendly with her—I’m wondering if you might plant the idea for Darya that Ava might benefit from some counselling with you.’
Ava eventually needs time in the ‘Vitality Compact’ where she is treated for a ‘non-critical, non-contagious condition’. Gradually, more people in the Ark develop non-critical, non-contagious conditions requiring treatment …
This book is clever in its creation of a futuristic world. I love the means of communication the group uses. For example, minutes of meetings are taken through the voice recognition software, ‘Articulate’, whose tagline is ‘Organising your thoughts since 2016’. Not only does it decipher the words used, but also the emotions conveyed, and inserts them into the minutes.
This book is a study of corruption, manipulation and power. The tension builds as things inside the Ark become more and more perverse. I’d liken it to George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’.
I attended the book launch last Friday, and this was no ordinary book launch. As we queued outside, personnel in camouflage gear patrolled the lines. Our names were ticked off the list, we were asked if we were claustrophobic, and then we signed our waivers. Females and males were separated, and we were herded into the bunker before ‘Aiden’ addressed us with a charismatic and emotional speech …
It was a wonderful way to experience this book and congratulations to Annabel for her imagination in creating the concept.
‘The Ark’ can be bought directly from the website, thearkbook.com for $9.99.
This is another review for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2014.