Thursday, May 7

Piggy in the Middle - Catherine Jinks

Dallas shoots feral pigs for a living - she has to send a specimen from each one to the biotech company that employs her as proof of death, and is paid per pig. When she sent in a sample of her own skin as a test she wasn't paid, so the company must do some kind of analysis, but Dallas isn't too fussed about that. She is, however, concerned that there are fewer feral pigs about and an increasing number of diseased, dying pigs - she'll soon be out of a job and has few prospects.
Ron lives with his blind grandfather and looks after the pigs at Agricultural Biomedical Research Industries. The modified animals, with fingers growing out of their backs and ears out of their sides, discomfort him, but not as much as Jibby does - she has oddly human grey eyes and malformed trotters. More important, though, is the loss of his license - he can't marry his girlfriend until he gets his wheels back.
Felix is a sixteen year old genius, working in a limited capacity at ABR. When a call from Dallas is put through to him over summer, when most of the other desks are empty, he encourages her to come to ABR and ask for compensation for the results of the ABR-designed virus that has killed off most of Australia's northern feral pig population. He befriends Ron in the cafeteria and inserts himself into his new best friend's life.
This is a deceptively complex novel about genetic research, gene ownership and xeno-transplantation that involves naive and young protagonists. Perhaps because of my background in ethics, I would really have liked to see more about the former aspects of the novel, but the impact of this is to a degree let down by the latter, as most of the issues around these topics are not explored. Instead much of the focus is on relationships - Ron's with his girlfriend and his grandfather, Dallas with her odd and distant family, and Felix's with both his very remote parents and his intense feelings for Ron.
Piggy in the Middle felt undeveloped or incomplete for me, and I was left with my unresolved questions about the plot and the characters, and particularly the projected fate of Jibby. I have found Jinks's contemporary novels less compelling that her historical ones, and that pattern continues. I'm glad I read Piggy in the Middle, and certainly didn't not enjoy it, but I'd rather have read another book about Pagan. - Alex

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