Pure by Julianna Baggott – Book Review

Giving “nuclear fusion” a whole new meaning

When it comes to raising the dramatic stakes and getting the sort of cathartic kick that reminds you your life is actually pretty good, you can’t beat a good dystopia. Pure offers two for the price of one.

On the one hand, we have the survivors of an apparent nuclear holocaust, scraping for food in the wreckage of civilisation and literally carrying the past around with them: when the bombs hit, you see, they left people fused to whatever they were carrying, or standing beside. Teenage protagonist Pressia, for example, has a plastic doll’s head in place of a hand. She got off lightly – we meet others who live with much grimmer consequences. (Two words: mothers, children. Yeah.)

On the other hand, there are the privileged few who reached shelter just before the blasts, and now live within the confines of the Dome. “Confines” being the operative word; although protected from the extremes of life outside, the Dome’s children are channelled relentlessly towards repopulating the world (girls) or fighting off the ragged few outside who’ve inconveniently failed to clear the way for them by dying (boys).

Baggott has published three collections of verse, and her skills as a poet shine through in some understatedly well-crafted prose – descriptions are sketched with crystalline precision, not floweriness – but she also has a flair for keeping the pages turning with a combination of short, sharp action beats and drip-fed revelations. Strong stuff, and gripping to boot.

Nic Clarke

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