Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori – the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?
– from amazon.co.uk
The front of the proof copy of this book says “EVERYTHING YOU BELIEVE IS WRONG” which is quite a statement to make but the concept was interesting enough to overcome my immediate sense of ?! upon seeing the tagline. It is well worth reading, guys. Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson. Well worth it for reasons above and beyond the very soft science fiction concept.
Firstly, if you’ve ever heard of synaesthesia then you’re ahead of the protagonist, which is a slight drag, but for YA readers unlikely to be a problem. Our protagonist is sixteen-year-old Alison who exists in a chaotic swirl of colours and tastes and sounds and she’s ridiculously sensitive to everything around her. She starts the story waking up in a hospital and it’s a slow, foggy beginning to the book, just like Alison’s wakening; it’s really not the strongest part of the book. It doesn’t quite set a tone, Alison comes across as being SO sensitive and squishy and fragile that there’s nothing to her but her confusion and that she’s involved in the disappearance of the perfect, popular but hated Tori. It improves as it goes on, quite a bit, but throughout I found Alison difficult to like and difficult to feel anything for. I suppose it works in a way to suggest that Alison MIGHT be totally insane, but canny readers are going to be totally aware that this isn’t really an option given that she’s the main character.
That said, RJ Anderson uses the synaesthesia beautifully and the writing is, at times, gorgeous. It stretched credulity a little later in the plot but it’s done with completely effective language and that near-poetic resonant edge to it. It’s an excellent treatment of a very weird and curious condition and I’d urge people to read this book just to enjoy the mad variety of ways very simple things are described, colours as tastes and emotions and so on, even in the chapter titles.
Faraday’s sessions with Alison, where he informs her of her synaesthesia and various other moments, are good scenes. He never seems like there’s anything solid to him so I have to say he didn’t really interest me very much (also what is this thing about his eye colour, that sort of thing would alarm me greatly!) but the twists served to build character ginormously well and I was well impressed with RJ Anderson’s ingenuity in everything from providing us with a very well-rendered and dynamically populated mental institute to the climactic part of the plot. The soft science fiction aspects are well-handled and though I’ve seen reviews saying that they feel out-of-place and jarring with the rest of the story, I feel that it all actually serves to make it stronger, building on the developing characters and plot, and I found the ending pretty much pitch-perfect.
The main thing that I really heart about this book is Tori and the manner in which Alison, who’s had to put up with a relentlessly intense multi-dimensional world for so long, comes to realize that there’s more than one dimension to people as well. It’s a wonderful way to approach it, something everyone struggles with because we’re all trapped as unreliable narrators – and in this case it’s very convoluted. I’ve always got a strong distaste for stories with the perfect prissy blonde cheerleader type who acts horrible and is horrible and has no redeeming qualities simply because she’s a stereotypical female villain; people like that simply don’t exist and the idea that it’s okay to hate these people (like it’s okay to hate Slytherins!) really pisses me off. Ultraviolet sidesteps this travesty of a concept and makes it into something far more interesting, deep and worthwhile. Although Alison and Faraday were lacklustre to me, it was a merry read, well-written, at times ingenious, and very pleasantly diverting.
Buy on Amazon.co.uk