...when you really needed them?"
~Sarah Pinborough (2011). Breeding Ground
Breeding Ground was a surprising read in many ways. It had an interesting story premise, which reminded me of Matheson's "I am Legend" only crawlier. I enjoyed much of the writing, particularly at the beginning, although I felt some of the novel dragged at bit in the middle. Despite that, Sarah Pinborough has an excellent writing voice and many scenes in the story were superb. For some reason, however, this story took a longer time for me to read than other novels I'd read recently. I can't quite put my finger on why. I didn't have that 'I can't put this book down' sensation that I'd had previously with Richard Matheson's stories, or novels by Clive Barker.
Although Pinborough wrote this story with the kind of monsters I have an affinity for, something in construction of the work and in the prose (in different places) was lacking at times. At the very beginning, I didn't buy off on Matthew Edge's '...I can't tell you how this all happened...' premise, where this horrible 'disease' is suddenly taking over the women of the world. And then to read later that Dr Whitehead, the scientist, says that the disease came about from genetically modified food, was a mental turn off. I think I could have bought it if I'd seen/read some indication of it earlier...but to just have the idea dumped on me in Chapter 16 was a bit much. And it was inconsistent. Matthew Edge acts as if he had no idea what happened in the Prologue, but then we find out it's humans who created the aberration. I wanted to see the genetic experiment somewhere, to feel it happening, to understand and know about it instead of having it placed in my lap midway through the novel.
Genius moments for Pinborough were the initial descriptions of the women gaining weight and the subtle changes going on, coupled with the female transformations. I adored reading about Chloe's physical and mental changes, and the overtly gross verbiage of birthing her baby and eating half of it (Why only half, I wondered), but after that things didn't get interesting for me until the battle with the widows at the boy scout hut. Then the amputation of Dave's arm and their finding safety/shelter at Hanstone Park were excellent. The story concept itself, along with the dialogue, was well done.
Still, there were overly extended/unnecessarily long run-on sentences in this piece that could have been chopped in two to make the story better. It made me think about my own writing and how I need to cut down on lengthy prose. And in some places there were sentences that I couldn't believe an editor let slide. Take this sentence for example:
"Another pang of loneliness and heartache stabbed inside, and I hoped that there would be a time when I felt safe and secure enough to allow some time for all the grief inside to come out and then allow me to keep her close inside."
The word "inside" is used three times in the above sentence, and reading it let me see how mistakes like this can pull a reader out of the story and make it less enjoyable. It was definite food for thought.
At one point Pinborough describes the human rules of their small group trying to survive:
"We were like scavengers now—the morality of taking what wasn’t ours no longer applied."
I thought the above phrase was a great line to describe how their social order, the norm of things, had decayed and was replaced with a different philosophy of existing. She does this one more time toward the end of the book:
"We’d all reached the conclusion that this was what had to be done, and we needed to see it through together. A new order had taken hold and our old laws no longer applied. I think this was the first day that we accepted that."
Overall, I thought the work Pinborough did on this was brilliant. She kept tension throughout the story, and the conflict she wove into it was almost continuous. The worst part for me was (honestly) the ending. Unlike Matheson's "I am Legend," (which I frequently compared this story too because the overall concept was the same) this novel ends on a non-conclusive but hopeful note. Perhaps Matt and Rebecca (and the unborn baby) make it somewhere and survive. Perhaps George and Chester arrive at their destination unharmed.
But the entire premise of the book makes their survival unlikely. The ending wasn't satisfying for me and I can't describe why. It was like a thread hanging from a web...not part of the symmetrical construction, and not completely free. In the end, I wanted to be convinced that mankind would prevail, that this new world order would diminish. I wanted to believe that the human species would go on despite a massive global anomaly. But how long does it take before an anomaly becomes the norm? How long does it take before the web of life that has changed world structure is no longer something terrible and unexplainable, but is instead, a new breeding ground for the acceptable? One thing is for sure... change bites.