Monday, August 13, 2012

'The Testimony' by James Smythe

13 August 2012

It’s not often I have a book recommended to me by the writer’s father but I was delighted to discover that the son of Voluntary Arts Board member, John Smythe, is a very accomplished novelist. ‘The Testimony’ by James Smythe is set a few years in the future when people across the world simultaneously hear a voice in their heads. Is this the voice of God, some kind of radio interference, a terrorist plot, a sinister government weapon or the work of aliens? The story unfolds in a series of very short first person accounts which alternate between 26 characters in a variety of situations around the world – as if they are being interviewed by a reporter and this is their testimony. It’s a very clever jigsaw: at first you feel there are too many characters and it is hard to keep track of them all but gradually their individual personalities shine through and you find yourself rooting for your favourites as they seek to survive the global crisis. Although the setting seems like science fiction – and the worldwide catastrophe that ensues reminded me of two recent TV series (‘FlashForward’ and ‘Torchwood: Miracle Day’) and is very much in the tradition of ‘The Day of the Triffids’ or ‘The War of the Worlds’ – most of the jeopardy comes from the behaviour of crowds, governments and individual people reacting to ‘The Broadcast’ rather than any direct effect of whatever lay behind it. This reminds you how close to chaos our ‘civilised’ society always is – a lesson demonstrated by last summer’s riots. Ultimately ‘The Testimony’ is a story about people rather than gods or aliens, and a genuinely touching humanity emerges from the disaster movie it describes.



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