“So often in life you look back and think, ‘How did I get from A to B? How did I allow it to happen, and, since I am a person to whom nothing much ever really happens, how did I not notice that this thing happened? More importantly, why did I not make a fuss?”
This quote from the Polly Walshe novel ‘Theresa Smith at the Court of Heaven’ clearly summarises the crux of the novel. In this futuristic fiction, Theresa Smith, a 79 year old Classics teacher reflects on her life at Leonard Cohen Court and her sceptical decision to take Life Enhancement. The entire story is narrated by Theresa to Poppy, her granddaughter, from the Makeway Life Enhancement Clinic. Theresa herself is unsure about her fate after the treatment and it slowly unfolds through the pages.
Theresa sticks out like a sore thumb among the highly sociable society of Leonard Cohen Court. Her pleasures in life are simple things like books, TV, puzzles and chocolate biscuits and she loves her personal time. A no-nonsense woman who refuses to change herself to appease others, she is admired by the residents for her intelligence and integrity even with her minor quirks. The book also explores Theresa’s relation with her daughters. Mother of two successful and independent women who are completely caught up in their world, Theresa fails to emotionally connect with them and have a meaningful relationship. Theresa, like many of us who loathe vulnerability, puts on a strong face in front of her loved ones even when completely broken inside. Her efforts to connect with her children comes off as frustrated arguments and accusations from both the sides.
Theresa lives in an advanced society which values productivity above everything else. Hence, the older generation has to pay the price for using the life sustaining resources and increasing the carbon footprint without actually contributing to the society. Old citizens are even made to pay more taxes to compensate for their lack of productivity. In this society, a revolutionary form of treatment called Life Enhancement (a fancy term for euthanasia) is made available for the senior citizens. Theresa is lured into visiting the Makeway Life Enhancement Clinic by the manipulative Nicolas Maltravers who overwhelms Theresa with his company and affection. Before Theresa knows it, she has signed up for Life Enhancement as a favour to Nicolas, though in the back of her mind she still believes that it can be stopped by just saying NO. Soon things spiral out of control and she is in a position where her appeals for not taking the treatment fall on deaf ears. Polly Walshe has beautifully portrayed the hypocrisy of the big corporations through this incident. Everything looks rosy and appealing from outside beckoning you to enter and become a valuable part of it. Once inside, your perspective changes by observing the ugly and ruthless side, but by then it is too late to get out.
Polly Walshe has created plenty of characters who are residents of Leonard Cohen Court. Yet, only Theresa captures our attention. All the peripheral characters are incomplete and forgettable. To me, they were just names who muddled up my mind during the reading process. The book is also a slow paced read with very less incidents that capture our attention. Maybe pepping the story line with more incidents would have benefited the readers. The well-presented part of the book is the decision making process undergone by Theresa for Life Enhancement. This is completely realistic and extremely believable for the audience.
Overall, a slow paced book with simple writing. People who are fans of futuristic fiction can attempt to read this book. Unfortunately, this is not my cup of tea.
P.S : I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley. That did not change my opinion of this book.