R17. Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson [classic]

Divided KingdomContext: This is the last of the "classic" reviews, and thus the most recent. I have a clear physical memory of this book, if not its content. It was summer of 2006, my heart was broken, and, if you'll forgive the drama of this metaphor, every moment was a blade. I read a lot of books that summer, sneakily borrowed from the collection of the people whose basement I occupied, or hauled from the library a mile away, in huge bunches, during the pleasant warm evenings. The first one was 1984, which we'll get to eventually, and then maybe I'll tell you the story that I've alluded to in the following review. Also, I don't remember what the "mystery" that I've written about here actually was.

Year Published: 2005
Pages: 396

First Sentence: There were men in my room, and it was bright, too bright, and I was being lifted out of bed.

I first heard of this book from a review in Asimov's Science Fiction which had nothing but praise for the book. I, however, am somewhat less than impressed. Similar to The Man in the High Castle, I feel that there was a lot of potential to this concept that went to waste. Before I get into that too much, though, I should explain a little bit about Divided Kingdom and what exactly the "concept" I'm referring to is.

I like to compare this book to Orwell's 1984, in that it takes place in the not-so-distant future when the world has taken a drastic turn for the worse. In the case of Divided Kingdom, the aforesaid "turn for the worse" takes the form of a Rearrangement of the population of the United Kingdom into four quarters. People are classified into groups according to the four humours of old: the Red Quarter houses those who are sanguine, the Blue Quarter is home to the phlegmatics, cholerics are in the Yellow Quarter, and melancholics find themselves in the Green. Super cool, no? While it is definitely somewhat implausible, I really enjoy the idea of using old-school medical folly to divide a population. Anyway, our hero is Thomas Parry, who is probably the most boring protagonist that I've ever encountered. He is a gentleman of the Red Quarter, taken from his parents at the age of eight or so, given a new name and blah. He runs away.

There is something chronically wrong with the pacing in this book. I never once felt myself caught up in Thomas's adventure. There was one mystery in particular that I really just didn't understand. While the entire idea of a split along psychological lines is both really neat and implausible, this other mystery seems really just weird. I don't know if Thomson tossed it in to let the reader know that he wasn't really taking the idea that seriously either, or what. The trouble with pacing may also originate with the protagonist. I didn't like him at all. Maybe it was that he was middle aged. Maybe it was the numbness that he acknowledged within himself, because honestly there was a bit of a connection, however brief, when he'd mention his separation from his parents.

Whatever my reasons for disliking the main character and for the book being tragically slow, it remains a fact that I didn't really enjoy reading this book at all. I just felt like nothing really happened in it. In a way, 1984 has the same sort of anti-climax. The difference being that when I read 1984 I was really just desperately looking for a distraction, and probably would've read, you know, a textbook in a foreign language if I hadn't had the novel handy.

Overall, 1984 is a far superior book. You can go ahead and read Divided Kingdom; it's got decent prose, cute metaphors too. Although sometimes these metaphors assert themselves just a bit too much, and you feel like Thomson is maybe trying just a bit too hard. Something for a plane ride, or a distraction, but not favourite book material, I'd say.

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