The Machine by James Smythe

The Machine by James Smythe (2013)

328 pages

Goodreads Summary: Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece.

I recently read The Explorer by this author and really liked it.  But before I read that, I’d come across this book and have been wanting to read it for some time.  Looking back, I’m glad I read his other book more because I did like it better and The Machine wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Based on the cover and it being touted as a modern Frankenstein, I thought it would focus primarily on the man who was affected by the machine.  Instead, the main character is Beth, his wife.  The story is written entirely from her perspective and, well, I just didn’t really like her that much.  I had a hard time caring about her and what she was going through. The first part of the book sets up the story, who she is, where she lives, and why she’s doing what she’s doing.

She lives on the Isle of Wight although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t revealed or made clear until the end of the book.  I was sure it was somewhere in Europe but didn’t know for sure.  She’s a schoolteacher and the town used to be beautiful and attract a lot of tourists.

Now things have happened (again, it’s not clear what) but the temperatures are high, there was some flooding, parts of the shore have been washed away, etc.  And there are mostly poor people left and many children don’t show up at school and are aggressive toward her when she’s out in public. I felt like this first part went on and on.  I wanted to get to more interesting parts as I felt like the atmosphere and who she was as a person had been established long ago.

I felt the last part of the book was somewhat rushed and wasn’t worth the build-up.  After she puts her husband’s memories back, things don’t go exactly as she’d expected.  I won’t say any more to avoid spoilers, but I didn’t really see a lot of Frankenstein connections other than a machine being used to build a person

There was a secondary character who questioned the use of the machine, spoke of religion and how it’s wrong to take a person’s memories and, in doing so, it might damage the soul.

So it did raise some interesting questions, but I felt like the overall idea could have been made much more fascinating and developed a bit more.  If the book had been much longer (and I hadn’t been reading it during a readathon), I might have given up on it, I just wasn’t as engaged as I’d expected to be. That being said I still love James Smythe and look forward to reading his other books. He is definitely a unique writer and has great ideas.  Unfortunately this book just didn’t work as well for me or grab me as much as I’d anticipated.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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