Sunday, December 2

A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair – Nicholas Fisk

Some decades after a nuclear accident it becomes apparent that humanity is in trouble – fewer and fewer children are being born, not nearly enough to replace the death rate. As a result, young people are pampered, nurtured and cherished. Reared in group homes, to maximise their well-being, they are the hope of the twenty second century. Smarter than average, more self-directed, a fast learner, Brin is the best and brightest, and he knows it. When he’s taken to the Council of the Western Seniors Elect he’s neither surprised nor overawed – it makes sense that they would want his input.
Everyone’s heard rumours about the Reborn – people generated from the genetic material of the dead – but they’re just rumours. At least, that’s what Brin thinks, until he learns that the Seniors want him to observe and interact with a group of Reborns – siblings Brian and Mavis, and their housekeeper Mrs Mossop. Because they have to be made from pre-accident material, and because the shock of trauma of bringing them straight to the present time, the Reborn believe it’s November 1940, and as they have no substantive memory, each evening they return to their boxes and each day they return to the kitchen that’s the only part of the house that was able to be faithfully recreated in all period-appropriate detail.
The more time Brin spends with the Reborn the more sympathetic he is to them, and the more he comes to realise that they’re not as static as the Seniors believe. Brian is particular is becoming impatient and wants to go outside, and is less and less willing to be distracted by the stories of Brin’s fighter-pilot uncle. Then Brin’s uncle appears, and everything in the 1940’s house changes.
Brin’s arc from cocky, valued and pampered youth to a more worldly-wise and rebellious youth is beautifully done, and his voice is distinctive throughout. Fisk is very good at creating atmosphere and suspense, generating an adolescent’s view of the world, and imbuing the mundane with sinister overtones; in perhaps his best known work, Grinny, the wolf amonst the sheep is an old lady that only the children can see through. In A Rag, A Bone… the domesticity is more foreign and the danger more occult.
I first read this novel about twenty-five years ago, and had a very clear memory of the shocking twist near the end, though the actually ending and many other details were more vague. Given the length of time and the literally thousands of books I’ve read since then, that already says something about the quality of the writing. – Alex

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