Every now and then a book comes along that confirms to you that it’s not that you’re struggling to get excited about reading. It’s just that the books you’ve been reading recently, while perfectly competently written, have just been a bit meh. Anne Corlett‘s The Space Between The Stars (review copy from Pan Macmillan) is one of those astonishing, game-changing books that reminds you what reading should be about.
Corlett’s novel is the story of a universe after a highly contagious virus has wiped out most of humanity. A tiny number of survivors – each of them one in a million – are scattered across colony worlds across the universe. They must deal with what has happened and find a way of moving forward. The story focuses on Jamie Allenby, who had fled to a remote outpost from the breakdown of her relationshp following a miscarriage. She wakes alone after the virus has burned itself out, and sets out on a journey home to the Northumberland coast. Along the way she meets a failed priest, a religoius scientist, a ship’s captain and his gruff engineer, a prostitute and a boy with autism. These become her unlikely travelling companions on her journey to Earth and a hoped-for reconciliation with her partner Daniel – if he has survived the virus.
So far so Station Eleven. But what sets The Space Between The Stars apart is its focus on the personal. The small stories of the survivors and how they deal with the consequences of what has happened: grief and anger are real and there are no easy ways forward. Let me be clear: this is not a big, galaxy spanning story of rebuilding civilisation or a Survivors-style tale of people banding together for protection against feral raiders in the ruins of our world. Civilisation has ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
This is a story about humanity in all its chaotic glory. Don’t expect the relentlessly saccharine positivity of The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet. And that makes it a much better piece. This is a book about how imperfectly we live together with one another. It’s about the tension between our striving for privacy and independence, and our basic need for community and contact with one another. It’s about the imperfect communications between us all. It’s about the messy business of life and survival, and the way it does not fit neatly into the stories we tell one another, with their clarity of purpose and happy ever after endings. Like the sea glass that Jamie collects on the beach, we are all unique: shaped and made beautiful by the pounding tides that rub us up against one another and the grit between us.
Goodreads rating: 5*