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The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Speculative Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

‘A powerful and terrifyingly relevant literary debut combining the speculative power of Station Eleven with a taut, shocking thriller’ – Orenda Books

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith was released in digital format on April 9th and will be published in paperback original with Orenda Books July 9th. The Waiting Rooms is an astonishing debut, one that is described as ‘a compelling, emotive and disturbingly prescient thriller. It takes place in the very near future when the antibiotic crisis has led to widespread death and a population in peril…’.

If I had picked up The Waiting Rooms last year I would have thought I was reading dystopian fiction. Little did I know, with the current COVID19 crisis, that our reality would resemble that of a dystopian world.

First let me share with you all some very alarming facts about antibiotic resistance (via Eve Smith):

Antibiotic resistance is currently responsible for 700,000 deaths a year. The World Health Organisation estimates that this could grow to ten million deaths a year by 2050 if no action is taken: that’s more deaths than cancer.

In the words of Professor Dame Sally Davies, when she was Chief Medical Officer: “The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse.” Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread, and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warned.

“Antibiotic resistance has long been a problem, but the threats we face are real, immediate, and demand immediate action. Antibiotic resistance threatens modern medicine: our ability to safely perform routine surgeries and complicated organ transplants, as well as chemotherapy, all rely on the ability to prevent and treat infections.”
Dr. Jesse Jacob, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta

The Waiting Rooms is based on an antibiotic crisis becoming a reality. Now twenty years later and the lives of the world population have changed beyond recognition. The freedom, so taken for granted, has been removed with temperature checks and scans part of daily existence. The aged are no longer given the medical care required to survive illness and old age. Instead they are offered an ‘end-of-life’ serum, one that allows them to slip away quietly with no more suffering and pain. Approaching a seventieth birthday is a fear for all. Getting sick is a death sentence.

“I can’t even hug a friend without asking!…”

These are the words spoken by Kate Connelly’s daughter Sasha. Kate is a medical practitioner facing very difficult choices on a daily basis. Wearing PPE attire is her norm in the hospitable environment. Helping people to die is also her norm. But this was not how Kate remembers her earlier years. When Kate was young, life was very different. No masks, no temperature checks. Eating out was nothing unusual. Flying off for a city break was routine.

“Remember those stories you told me. about how you and your mates used to jump on a plane and fly off somewhere for the weekend? Or go to some bar to meet guys? I’ve seen the films: people rolled into bed with complete strangers! No body scans. No STD checks. No profile searches”

Now Kate has just lost her adoptive mother. Following the funeral she begins the search for her birth mother, Mary, but she is very much unprepared for the secrets she begins to unravel. Her birth mother’s story takes the reader to South Africa, pre-crisis. The descriptions of this dramatic landscape and the nature it holds is beautifully portrayed alongside the shocking story of Mary, as the course of her life changed forever. (Side Note – Eve Smith’s own travels and knowledge are very evident as her previous job as COO of an environmental charity took her to research projects across Asia, Africa and the Americas. These experiences nurtured her ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places.)

As Kate’s search expands, it soon becomes evident that something menacing and sinister is at work. Her mother’s past is very shady and Kate discovers that there is much more to her story than she could ever have anticipated. With each layer revealed, Kate’s life and that of her family, is put more at risk. But why? What is hiding in her mother’s past? Who is she really? And what secret is she keeping to herself? With threatening undertones, and unsettling discoveries, Kate must fight for the truth and for her survival.

The Waiting Rooms is a frightening read in so many ways. Being now, unfortunately, all too familiar with so many of the concepts it contains, it was quite shocking to see it depicted in such a fictional setting. Eve Smith has created a tense, disturbing and scarily uncanny novel that I devoured yet, admittedly, was freaked out reading.

The Waiting Rooms is a seriously impressive debut, a novel that is intuitive and chilling, one that will resonate with all in this current climate.

I wonder what Eve Smith will write next and, perhaps, we should all take note and listen.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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