Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’ … hospitals where no one ever gets well.
Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.
Sweeping from an all-too-real modern Britain to a pre-crisis South Africa, The Waiting Rooms is epic in scope, richly populated with unforgettable characters, and a tense, haunting vision of a future that is only a few mutations away.
Wow, if this book didn’t just hit the publishing world at the right time! It was scary, topical and I wondered if Smith had psychic powers and knew what was about to hit us in 2020.
The similarities between the human resistance to antibiotics, the rise of TB and the world of COVID-19 were astonishing as Smith described a future world of hand washing, sanitising and face masks. Was it really a future world or, as the use of antibiotics is seen as the cure all for so many infections the direction we could be heading?
Smith’s knowledge and understanding of the science was exemplary, she didn’t blind us with it, instead wove it skilfully into the main narrative, as the characters learnt to live with their pasts and their present.
Indomitable scientist Mary Sommers was the past, at the top of her profession, brilliantly clever yet just like the rest of us, soft and vulnerable underneath. It was that vulnerability, the choices she made that had such huge ramifications not only for herself but for others.
Our present or future was Kate, wife, mother and nurse, the kind of nurse you didn’t want to see as Smith described her job. It was a job that saw her ease the way of her patients into the next world, the over 70’s no longer deemed treatable, but disposable, if only to save the younger generation. It was chilling, unsettling and were we not living through a pandemic something you would have seen as pure fiction.
It was Kate’s search for her birth mother that opened up lies, intrigue and the mighty power of pharmaceutical companies. Smith’s plot was utterly compelling, to the point I couldn’t put the book down. I’m not sure I can find the words to describe quite how it made me feel, except that it felt surreal but real all at the same time.
The time before the antibiotic crisis and Mary’s story, mainly in South Africa, was beautifully narrated, the African Bush, vivid and alive in Burton’s capable words. She used Mary’s research to raise the ultimate dilemma between politics, ethics, and loyalties as she pushed Mary to such limits that you wondered how she managed to reconcile it all in her head, as she looked back, when that past threatened her very being.
Kate’s story, post crisis, although different raised similar dilemma’s, perhaps the most horrific choice of all, that of who should live and who should die. It all, quite literally took my breath away, it almost felt too close to what has happened in the last twelve weeks, as I relived conversations I had had as part of my job as a GP receptionist.
Whatever issues, Smith raised, however close it all seemed, what you had to admire was the storytelling, the ingenious mix of science and human emotion, of real characters faced with everyday dilemmas, of living through the extraordinary and wondering if they would emerge unscathed on the other side.
I have to congratulate Eve Smith on this amazingly brilliant debut and await with baited breath for her next novel.
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of The Waiting Rooms to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to partcipate in the blogtour
About the author
Eve Smith writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.
Set twenty years after an antibiotic crisis,her debut novel The Waiting Roomswas shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize.