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Metronome: The 'unputdownable' BBC Two Between the Covers Book Club Pick

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For a novel depicting twelve years’ isolation for two people on an island, it can read like a veritable a-z of underlying themes such as: adversity, attraction, challenge, climate change, communication, companionship, construction, control, death, destruction, determination, distraction, distance, equality, existence, family, fear, health, human hunger, intimacy, lies, love, oppression, pleasure, pressure, rebellion, relationships, revenge, sacrifice, safety, scams, secrets, solitude, synchronicity, time, etc. It suggested a story of survival and hardship, a situation which require out-of-the-box thinking and the island setting itself promised a mystery to unravel. Ever since I read Blurb Your Enthusiasm, I've been paying more attention to the jacket copy on books.

Probably not, but when you start pondering such questions mid-book it is obvious that the 'magic' of the story has not drawn you in and you are no longer able to 'suspend disbelief'. The eventual focus on parenthood meant this reminded me a lot of The Road, and there were also shades of The Water Cure and Doggerland (though, thankfully, the dual protagonists ensure a less overly male atmosphere). Whitney’s obeisance to the regime is particularly perplexing, most especially in being entirely unexamined. Ottessa Moshfegh deems that within good fiction, “you feel shaken, ‘woken up’, affected“ as a reader.

She is new to social media, but still into music, and a keen photographer, into pre-loved stuff and mental wellbeing, she is proud to have recently become a Litro contributor. Things take an unexpected turn toward the end and the reader is left with a sense of both sorrow and hopeful joy. Metronome was a BBC Radio 2 Between the Covers book club selection for the summer of 2022 and you can see the list of 14 selections here.

While I enjoyed it, I never managed to feel that drawn to the characters, their stilted nature kept them at arm’s length so I couldn’t feel too invested in their future.Metronome is an addictive and hugely compelling novel, I was totally enraptured by the characters and the plot. Whitney and Aina were sent to remote island to carry out a prison sentence for raising a child without governmental consent. The story centers around a couple who have been banished to an island for having a child against the rules of their country. Using flashbacks Watson takes us back to Aina and Whitney’s life in an unspecified country which is very much like ours, but with small yet noticeable differences. He was shortlisted with this debut, Metronome, for the Bridport Prize, and with another piece, ‘Magda’, at the Bristol Short Story Prize.

Dystopian, suspenseful and atmospheric, the premise of this novel is that a married couple are coming to the end of their 12 year incarceration on a remote (fictional) island. Sure, there’s an undercurrent of mild thriller, a human study, a deeper issue of crime and punishment - no matter what the crime or misdemeanour, and whether the punishment fits it.However, they are coming to the end of their time there, ready for the Warden to come and take them back to society. The only thing that appears is a lone sheep - which leads to Aina becoming suspicious that they are not in fact on an island as she believes sheep cannot swim. The setup is that a couple, Aina and Whitney have been in exile on a supposed island for 12 years for the crime in their future dystopian society of conceiving a child without a permit. Art features heavily in the novel, sparked by the arrival of three Anthony Gormley sculptures at the UAE, which planted the seed in Watson’s mind, demonstrating a very organic and holistic process. Much of the pleasure of my initial reading of this novel was driven by the desire to discover what had happened in the past and how the novel was going to end; consequently my reread was less satisfying.

I loved the premise of this book and had high hopes of learning more about a world which exiles people as punishment, making them dependant on pills for survival. This author is so talented, the way that the relationship between Aina and Whitney chop and change throughout the novel is done so very well. Does he like what’s going on in the world (at the time of writing Metronome it was the pandemic; at the time of writing this review, there is war in the Ukraine).As days pass, Aina begins to suspect that their prison is part of a peninsula, and that Whitney has been keeping secrets.

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