Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today. That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of the People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another. Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe; it becomes a movement. A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.
How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they are a member?
Another day, another challenge, and another book that will prove exceedingly hard to review, being quite unlike anything else I have read this year. Here goes…
This is a beautifully structured book, moving the reader effortlessly between multiple characters and viewpoints drawing us deeper and deeper into the disturbing world of recruitment into cult, and the destructive consequences that arise. A multitude of victims pass through our consciousness as the book progresses from sharply contrasting walks of life, and as Carver interrogates the minutiae of each of these lives, it brings the reader to a heightened understanding of how a conceivably better exit plan is within their grasp. The book is tinged with a sadness and sense of hopelessness for many of the characters, but equally with some who ironically seem enlivened by the prospect of being involved in something they deem powerful and important, ending their lives on their own terms with seemingly little coercion. Carver cleverly conceals the source of this rapidly spreading cult, providing a knotty mystery for his readers as to how this small seed of destruction gathers such a momentum so quickly and so widely, and just what is the real motivation of its founder or founders? I loved the way that Carver focusses on a series of ordinary lives that will resonate with many readers, and the individual stories of dissatisfaction, underachievement, frustration, debt or emotional barrenness that overtakes their will to live with such devastating consequences.
Fuelled by Carver’s own authorial intervention on the disconnectedness of life in the modern age, dependent on the virtual world of clicks and likes as our one-to-one human interaction is slowly being chipped away at, and the appeal of being part of something like a cult to renew the feeling of connectivity, the book provides a scathing indictment of the world we live in. Carver pummels our consciousness with his observations on life, poverty, cults, social media, even serial killers’ body counts (and how some of them got it so, so, wrong in their preferred killing methods!) the book progresses with a rhythm and cadence incredibly similar in feel to parts of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, with it’s equally dispiriting observations on life and conformity. We all recognise the dark nature of humanity, the undermining of human connection by a world we inhabit through screens, the division and inequality of society which undoes those less able to cope with its challenges, but is the lure of the cult really the best way to overcome these challenges? Yes, this book takes the reader to some very dark places, but as Carver underscores the book with his usual dark, mordant wit this makes the book an overall less gloomy affair than this review has probably led you to believe. An intelligent, morally questioning and challenging read, that raises issues of certainty and doubt in equal measure, and is all very scarily plausible indeed…
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
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