LINE by Niall Bourke is published with Tramp Press and is described as ‘a stunning debut from a major new voice in Irish literature.’ Termed speculative fiction, I knew on picking up LINE that I was entering a world unrecognisable from what I know today, yet with elements of our society still present, albeit in a rather bizarre setting. So what is speculative fiction? Originally a term generated in the 1940s, over the years there have been many who argue the meaning of the term. In January 2020, Lyndsie Manusos wrote a fascinating article for BookRiot stating that she would ‘like to think of speculative fiction as a mix of the what-if scenario interacting with a basis in our world.’
Niall Bourke takes this concept of the ‘what-if’ and transports the reader into a very grim society where the populace are all living in a Line. This Line remains static for days on end and then suddenly it starts to move, always driving forward. But here’s the thing – no one knows where the end of the Line is. Generations have been born, lived and died on the Line, holding their place always for their children and grandchildren to come. To leave the Line has a shocking and very disconcerting penalty, one that drives fear into all who consider it.
‘The Line has existed longer than anyone knows. Our parents before us, and our parents’ parents before them have sacrificed everything so that we may be where we are today. We owe it to them all to get to the end. Or at least to get closer; then may it be our children who continue our journey.’
Willard and his mother live on the Line with a tarp cover and a few meagre possessions to just about survive. On the days when the Line remains still, they have an established routine from dawn until dusk with rules for movement that must be obeyed. Willard knows little about his father and over the years they have been assisted by Mr Hummel, their neighbour on the Line. Willard has a girlfriend, Nyla, and their plan is to marry and continue this procession of human life along this seemingly endless journey. Willard’s life is shaken when he discovers his mother tragically dead one morning. On sorting through her few bits, he discovers a book, hidden away in the seams of an item of clothing. Willard knows this book was hidden for a reason and his curiosity is piqued. With no one to openly ask, he turns to Nyla and together they start on a quest, a harrowing journey that will discombobulate and enthrall every reader.
The establishment of the Line is fascinating, providing a real insight into the study of the queue and how we as human beings react in certain situations. In recent times we have all been in various long queues due to Covid restrictions and, in most cases, these have been very orderly queues. Now, thankfully, the queuing, in the main, has reduced but we all did it when necessary. We all formed into a line. Now just imagine that being your life, all day and every day in the hope of reaching the end for some unexplained goal, yet one you know you need to strive for.
LINE is a combination of dystopian fiction and science fiction. A book that would certainly not be to everyone’s taste, it contains many stomach-churning and harrowing scenes, with sections of the second half giving me flashbacks to the flare-infected Cranks of The Maze Runner series. The descriptions of life on the Line are incredibly depicted by Niall Bourke, with very strong visuals, as the bleakness of life jumps off the pages. Although very much out-there, LINE offers the reader much food for thought. A satirical look at our society, it suggests an alternative world if we continue to live as we currently do. Migration is a very central theme, with world economics, data centres, conformity and greed also playing very important roles. LINE is an unnerving, yet compelling, tale of a society that has imploded. A powerful work of imagination LINE is an extraordinary and complex novel of a speculative nature that will both frighten and challenge all readers.
(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)
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