Dark Lullaby

By Polly Ho-Yen

Dark Lullaby, a novel by Polly Ho-Yen
Book details

They all tell you that having children is not easy, but nothing prepared us for the first six weeks of having a defenceless little tyke in the house. You may have read the books, been to a few classes or asked relatives and friends, but when it comes down to it, this is all on your shoulders alone. There is no manual how your child will act, and they pretty much let anyone have a child. What if an agency was monitoring your parenting for any blunders? After only a few small mistakes your child can be taken from you, welcome to the dark future fantasy of Polly Ho-Yen’s Dark Lullaby.  

With the world being struck down with infertility, ever birth must count. OSIP is an agency that has been set up to monitor all parents. They hide in plain sight waiting for the simplest mishap, a missing pair of gloves or a baby crying for more than five minutes. Too many strikes and you are found unsuitable, and the child is taken. Kit never wanted children, but after finding someone she begins the invasive fertility treatment. Follow her story in both the present and the past to discover what true horror can be for any parent. 

There are not many books that hurt your heart as you read them, but this is the sensation I found myself feeling when reading parts of Dark Lullaby. This is a science fiction book, but also dark psychological horror that will likely affect any parent, particularly those with younger children. The idea of being monitored and having your child taken from you is painful enough, but Ho-Yen creates a bureaucratic system that feels all too real. 

The author works wonders when building from an idea outward. Who and what are OSIP? They started off as an organisation with the best interests of people in mind, but over the years their agenda became warped. This all happened so slowly and naturally that no one noticed until it was too late. The officers now seem petty and cruel, but they claim to be fastidious and following the letter of the law. These faceless people use their rule book to hide behind. 

To heighten the tension within these pages more, Ho-Yen chose to split the narrative between the present and the past. This allowed for one story that was a thrilling ride as Kit goes on the run, and another chronicling the history of how these events came to pass. Several times the reader witnesses the cruelty of this new world as parents have their children taken away and you feel immersed within Kit’s journey throughout. 

Of all the dystopian novels I have read in recent years, Dark Lullaby feels like one of the harshest. The idea of worldwide near infertility is cruel enough, but it is the world that build up around this that is worse. It feels so believable that governments would choose to step in and use spreadsheets and checklists to determine the perfect family unit. There is no recognition of how each child is an individual. One may cry a lot, but still be a happy baby – just a moany one. There is a parallel with how we monitor children in education today using grades. It is all about how much they know and not about the likes of imagination or artistry. There is more than one pre-determined way to go about things.       

I would note a word of caution when picking up Dark Lullaby, within these pages are harrowing moments that will touch most people, but especially a parent. Literature is not always written for the reader to escape to the good places, it is also important to shine light onto the dark. Ho-Yen may have produced a difficult book to read in places, but that is because it makes you question what could really happen in a near future gone wrong, and for that, it makes for a compelling read. 

Written on 23rd March 2021 by .

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