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Lauren DeStefano

HarperVoyager (2011)

ISBN: 978 0 00 738698 7

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung


It can be a fine line between clever misdirection and a pervasive atmosphere of bullshit, and I can’t help but feel that in her debut novel, Wither, Lauren DeStefano has failed to cross that line. From the very first scene, I could feel her land of make believe tumbling down, logic brick by logic brick. Ordinarily, that would’ve meant a quick flick of the novel across the room and a move on to something more captivating. But with Wither, I felt compelled to read on, enticed by nothing more than curiosity about how DeStefano was going to deconstruct her implausible creation.

A dream? Now that would be worthy of a wall toss. Perhaps her narrator is caught in some kind of artificial reality? After all, Rhine does think that Chris Columbus was the first man to circumnavigate the globe. But then, maybe that’s just an indictment of the US education system. It’s even worse in Rhine’s time. The problem is, if you’re setting out to reveal that the world is not what either your narrator purposefully misleads you into thinking it is, or actually what they mistakenly believe it to be, then you have to throw your reader a bone. You have to convince them that you will honour their trust with a believable, and traceable, reveal that will reward their suspension of disbelief. And at no stage does DeStefano engender in me that trust. Which means, regardless of whether the world building here is fair dinkum sloppy or a purposeful artifice, the story has failed.

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