A natural for the horror section, this book is a truly awful view of the future. The story is set in London after some terrible event, a war presumably, which they call the great Conflagration. Financial recovery has been achieved for the A-Classified inhabitants by developing a very special tourist industry. There are Heritage Centres for the visitors to while away a little time if they are strong enough, but the main purpose of their visit to London is to receive medical treatment in the hospitals and clinics.
We used to see some of the sick foreigners just before curfew-time, being pushed out by their attendants, sallow-skinned, pathetic wrecks, gulping from their oxygen flasks. They come to this country for their holidays. But few of them look as though they're enjoying it.
Life isn't good for everyone in London though. Bedford lives in an Unapproved Temporary Dwelling with his foster mother, Ma Peddle, and other fostered children. They have two rooms, with broken windows and cockroaches, water is fetched from the standpipe in the street, and they live off what they can scavenge from the skips round the back of the tourist hotels, and coupons to use at the ration Exchange Centre, (turnips are currently plentiful...). But the Peddle family pull together and look out for each other:
The fact is, my sister Devonshire is a Dysfunc. Not that this matters to us at home. I have a dysfunctional elder brother too. And my newest sister, Netta, is dysfunctional with CP. That's cerebral palsy. It means she was damaged at birth, though not on purpose. In fact, I'm the only person in our family who hasn't got a profound impairment.
Bedford goes off on a 'scavvy' after school one evening, taking with him his Down's Syndrome sister, Dee, and his severely retarded brother, Rah. Bedford is remarkably patient and careful with them. The 'scavvy' is not very successful until, poking about in the muddy foreshore with a stick, Rah finds a man. Since he is not quite dead, they load him into a shopping trolley and trundle him home as quickly and quietly as they can.
And now the tension really starts to mount. The stranger has had a kidney removed, apparently against his wishes. He mutters darkly about how bad things are in London, and tries to persuade Ma Peddle to take her whole family away. But where could they go? Then the low-caste and abnormal and dysfunctional children are separated at school and 'tagging' is introduced. The tag is terribly clever - it constantly monitors the body's exact state of health and the condition of the main organs, twenty four hours a day. Now why would anyone need such a high level of medical supervision?
Bedford is unwilling to believe the evidence, but the truth gradually becomes clear to him. The standpipes are turned off in the unapproved residential areas, and while Bedford has to walk further afield for his water, CHAWMs (Community Health and Welfare Monitors) cruise menacingly up and down in their cars. I was frightened to death.
If you want to know what happens to Bedford, and his family, you will have to read the book. But this is a real dystopian novel - that is, a novel set in an imaginary future where things are as bad as they possibly could be. The exact opposite of utopia. So don't expect a great ending.
Not what I would call an enjoyable read, but highly recommended. Called The Scavenger's Tale, presumably, as a reference to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, since Bedford finds himself making just the same pilgrimage. One thing though, why does Rachel Anderson set this book in 2015? Since such a society could obviously not come about in fifteen years, is she trying to reassure us that she does not think this future could really come to pass? Or does she think elements of this society are already with us in the year 2001? Does our present attitude to 'dysfuncs' stand up to scrutiny? And how did you feel when Bedford pushed his sister and ran for it?
Nkisi, girl, age 15, from Devon, United Kingdom, on 15th June 2006. Rating: 9/10
Some of the most brilliant books in the world have the most bizare and pointless endings. I think this book is relly clever, and dystopian societies are the most interesting to read about(not to mention a lot more realistic when you look a little closer). Endings aren't always set down in stone, they aren't in real life, so why make everything so explanitory in a novel? This is an amazing book, and the fact that it is set in the near future makes it hit home a lot harder than some books set in the here and now. It means something, and that makes up for a bad ending any day of the week.
The Cat's Mother, girl, age 22, from Cambridge, United Kingdom, on 21st April 2005. Rating: 6/10
This is not the kind of book I usually read, or read as a teenager, but I think everything Rachel Anderson writes is worth reading - even if it's not very good - because she is one of the most interesting writers around, if not always one of the best. I'm completely in two minds about this book. On the one hand, it's inventive and compelling. It makes the reader think about what life is like for disabled people, for those who care for them, and about our own attitudes towards anyone who is conspicuously less than "perfect". However, I think sometimes this author's passion makes her draw the moral too explicitly, when in fact the point could have been left to make itself. Too much obvious authorial intervention, over the head of the character, is obtrusive and embarrassing. And the book confused me in places. Bedford loves his sister so much, but then he throws her towards the organ-seekers and runs to save himself. How can someone's attitude change so much, with no word of explanation from the author? I know that anyone might do such a thing if pushed to their limit, but I don't feel that it was handled convincingly. There is also not very much about how he feels when his foster-family is broken up and he may never see them again. This oblique style seems to be characteristic of this writer, but still the perceived gaps are frustrating. It seems clumsy. The story seems to fall apart towards the end too. I don't find the ending pointless - I think its ambiguity makes it stronger, and it definitely makes you think - but the end-of-the-middle part, from where Bedford finds a shelter of kinds in a crypt to where they arrive at the bishops' city, seems jumbled and somehow out of place. It also becomes much more didactic and unsubtle, to the detriment of the story. The author has a way with language that is very affecting. "The Scavenger's Tale" is a powerful book, but I think it would have been more powerful still had the messages about disability, real love and true versus false Christianity been more subtle.
Marls, girl, age 13, from The Sunshine State, Australia, on 18th October 2004. Rating: 2/10
We were asked to read this book for a SOSE class as part of our studies on Individuals and Society. I know from the comments of my other classmates that nobody who has read this book liked it. Though it was an interesting topic, the book was very poorly written, used far too many anagrams but whats worse, had no climax whatsoever ( well I couldn't find it anyway ) and had a ridiculous ending which made no sense at all. I rate this book poorly and if any of you do feel like reading this waste of paper, sit down, have a drink of water and wait for this strange delusion to pass.
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This book had such an impact on me that it is difficult to find something else to follow it with. You might really enjoy this long novel by Jan Mark, which is also for mature readers:
If you would like to follow up the question of attitude to 'dysfuncs', perhaps you could look at this one by Reinhardt Jung:
Or you could look at Melvin Burgess' vision of London in the future riven by warring families - (not for the faint-hearted):