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BOOK REVIEW: The Biggerers by Amy Lilwall

| 4 August 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Biggerers by Amy Lilwall

Point Blank
August 2018
Hardcover, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Speculative Fiction / Dystopia / Satire

9/10

Everybody became a bit mean. A bit individual. Units. That’s all humanity could say for itself – well, it couldn’t actually, because it was made up of too many, um, units. And then there were the elderly, who could never bear to be so isolated, yet isolated they were. It was cruel, really it was. And kids – not that many people had them any more – they seemed to be born sitting in one of those egg-shaped chairs, only seeing what was right in front of them.

So, the government asked a doctor, that famous one, to get a team together and figure it all out. He did. Everyone got a playmate. Well, everyone who wanted one, could buy a playmate. About a foot tall, they stood, naked (except in winter), very affectionate, not too intelligent. Mute, but cute – exactly what every home needs. Something to love, little units of love.

The Biggerers is set in a dystopian future where our two heroes, Bonbon and Jinx, spend their days gathering stones and feathers for their basket, and waiting to be fed by their owners. But it’s not long before getting sick, falling in love and wondering why they can’t eat with a spoon pushes them to realise they are exactly the same as their owners… only smaller.

 

The world of The Biggerers is revealed to readers through the accounts of characters coming at the situation from three very different directions.

Bonbon and Jinx are two littlers who live together, both from the most recent line of littlers, batch twenty. Their vocabulary is limited, and they can’t talk around humans (or she-ones and he-ones, as they call them). Along with their friends, Chips and Blankey, they’re starting to realise that maybe they’re not so different from the humans after all.

Jinx stared at Susan’s chest. She had never thought about it before, yet it was something that she was sure of. In fact, she knew that they were the same. Were they? She looked at Susan’s hands. One swung next to her hip and one held a bottle. Then she took her own hands off her breasts and held them up to inspect them. Same. They were the same.

As they learn more, they start to realise just how strange and unfair their situation is, but with no power and literally no voice, their situation seems unchangeable.

She repeated what the lady had said: not animals, but kept as pets. The big He-one had also talked about pets yesterday morning. She had understood everything. And she didn’t know why, but all day yesterday she’d been sad about this. Even though animals were quite nice, some little part of her, like her baby toe, or something, had thought that this was wrong. Now this feeling had spread to her whole foot.
If they were kept as pets, then they were kept as animals.

The emotions surrounding their situation are complex.

They were stopping her from clapping. They were stopping her from eating morsels with sticks. They were stopping her from using a spoon. So why did she need it from them now? Why did she still need it, knowing everything that she now knew?
‘Love,’ said the old littler. And as she rounded the doorway and they both looked down at her, she could see that they were happy to see her; especially the big She-one.

Susan and Hamish are Bonbon and Jinx’s She-one and He-one. 

The Littlers Advice Manual had said that they were ‘brought up’ to understand basic English, but communication between a ‘full-human’ and a ‘littler’ had been blocked in order to maintain the established, intended roles. Animals could not communicate verbally, the manual had explained, and this was the main difference between humans and animals. ‘Littlers’ were by no means to be considered animals, although it would be unethical to demote a ‘verbally capable’ being to the role of ‘pet’. They did try to talk, Susan thought; on several occasions she had seen one or other of them open their mouth but nothing would come out.

When Bonbon gets sick, it sets off a chain reaction, with the discovery of the possibility of communication and what that communication could mean if discovered.

‘It’s the third time this week that this has happened…’
‘It sounds awful.’ Susan bit her lip. ‘What’s it all about? Hand clapping was all I could really make out… Is it a sign of aggression?’
The nice assistant looked stunned for a minute. ‘Yes,’ she said, then: ‘No, not aggression. Communication.’ She flicked her gaze about her. ‘If you hear about any cases like this, you really must report it.’

And Drew is a scientist working for the company that create the littlers, responsible for a breakthrough, but reluctantly tied to the company and their money-making efforts.

‘What is it, Drew? Is there something wrong with her?’
In the middle of an egg-shaped container, a tiny person bobbed in liquid, a red tube attaching her to the wall of the egg. Other tubes and wires anemone-d out from various parts of her body. ‘I think… I think she might be ready to come out.’

 

Through these three main points of view, Lilwall paints a picture of a world that is futuristic, strange, and a little bit barbaric… with echoes of the world in which we now live. As a result, readers embarking on this journey, are bound to feel they’re experiencing something new, something “other” and surprising, yet at the same time familiar in a very human way.

There are some instances that might sit strangely from a technical viewpoint, like the head-hopping (at times more jarring than others); the frequent use of phrases like “she looked at him from the side of her head” and “he wrinkled his head” and “she slit her eyelids” and “the other slit his eyes”; some uncertainty as to the exact size of the littlers; that one scene with an interviewer and interviewee in which “the other” was used to reference both at different parts of the scene; and just how forgetful Jinx and Bonbon’s owner was when it came to their health – namely not providing one of them with a warm coat, in winter, when the other one had already gotten very sick due to the cold weather.

But those things fall away and cease being much of a bother as these characters and the intrigue that surrounds them pulls you in.

The Littlers in Lilwall’s novel are endearing and entertaining, and readers will struggle not to root for them – they are childlike but with the capacity to learn quickly when stimulated – but in addition to this, they also seem to be a stand in for beings on the receiving end of humanity’s… influence. The situation is a metaphor for consumerism, control, and anyone deemed to be “different” because of the way they physically look. The book is an examination of humanity and human history, and how easy we, as a species, find it to demote something or someone as less important because of arbitrary guidelines.

There is so much in this novel to discuss and unpack, but underneath it all is this well-told story set in a well-built world that is hard to see as speculative, because it all just feels so tangible.

This is a story of friendship and family, coming of age, oppression, and revolution. It’s shocking, enlightening, upsetting, and heartwarming, which is perhaps why it feels so representative of our world. It’s not all good or all bad, but covers a range of topics and tones, and you’re bound to come out of this book wishing you could meet these amazing littlers.

For the last two to three months I have been in a rather intense and moody reading-slump… reading things that crossed my path, but doing so almost begrudingly, and waiting… hoping… wishing for something to come along and grab my attention. The Biggerers did this and more.

 

 

Stephanie O’Connell

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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