In the not too distant future, your social standing is based on the "purity" of your genes and the ability to trace your family through the "national family tree" genetic database. All men are sterile and fertility drugs are only given to state-sponsored couples whose genetic match are approved. Those who can't trace their lineage are known as "Broken Branches" and considered outcasts, shunned by society.
Grace and Charlie are twins and Broken Branches, but Grace is given a chance at starting a family with her "thoroughbred" partner Tom when they are approved as parents by a public vote. Then there are the right-wing extremist group known as the "gardeners" who don't believe that any Broken Branches should reproduce. Grace and Tom are forced into hiding. In the meantime Charlie becomes fertile and has an "unsanctioned" child with one of his close genetic matches.
As with his previous novel In A Right State, Ellis paints an interesting and worryingly feasible vision of the near future in the UK. The government-led destruction of the NHS has reached a point where private health insurance is considered vital. Screening for genetic abnormalities while also allowing for enchancements during pregnancy is routine. DNA sampling is compulsary at birth to add the child to the "Family Tree". One the surface, making each man sterile and only allowing fertility through a drug could be seen as a measure of population control and a way of eliminating unplanned pregnancy. Just below the surface though, the fact that the drug is state controlled and only given to couples that are "approved" to be parents is of course the ultimate method of elite-ism. The same goes for those who can't trace their genetic heritage, creating a new type of class system where those who know their family history are automatically superior to those that don't.
Despite all these serious issues that the author is raising, it's an easy book to read. The writing is clever and the style fluid, while the pace is steady and there are no distractions of exposition to break the stride. This isn't just a novel about state control however and there is an underplayed science fiction edge that becomes more important towards the end. Each chapter is prefaced with an anonymous protagonist who breaks the fourth wall, adding a whole other dimension to the story.
Broken Branches is an imaginative, interesting story that raises some genuine concerns about the future of this country. There is no doubt that the UK is stealthily sliding towards private healthcare, while our freedom and individual liberty is eroded for our own "benefit". Class division has not been wider since the victorian era with austerity measures effecting those that can least afford it, while the wealthy minority remain largely unaffected. A timely, entertaining book that I sincererly hope remains fiction.
Written on 15th May 2019 by Ant.
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