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A Very Private Life (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) Paperback – 4 August 2015
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- Publisher : Valancourt Books (4 August 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 136 pages
- ISBN-10 : 194114795X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1941147955
- Dimensions : 12.7 x 0.81 x 20.32 cm
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What is impressive about Frayn's work is that it is so short and yet so well realised. I know that I had my child imagination to help me along, but to this day I have such vivid image of the world that he created. Uncumber is a great protagonist because she reminds me of Kipling's baby elephant, full of satiable curiosity!
The story is very simple, Uncumber is about 17 and lives with her family, with whom she has no physical contact. This is the norm for the wealthy who only have contact when the children are young, even the gestation and birthing process has been got rid of, so physical sex is redundant. Frayn describes them using hologram screens and ways of stimulating sensory experience, but of course in this age we would think internet, esp stuff like 2nd life (I think that 's what its called), and in so many ways this is how so many wealthy, and not so wealthy families now live - my kids go to their rooms and I do not see them unless I insist! However, in this world there is physical isolation from everyone, no one sees anyone else, all work is done from home, all food and other needs are delivered and all service people are not seen. As in Brave New World drugs are used to control every emotion for every situation and this is another bone of contention for Uncumber.
After a chance encounter with a man who has accessed the communication system by mistake and does not speak her language she decides that she wants to be with him. Needless to say it is an adventure that is not particularly pleasant for her, but fascinating for the reader as it is an insight into the insider/ outsider world that Frayn has envisaged.
Frayn's style is such that a lot speech is reported, so there is a rather remote aspect to the book, Frayn also distancing the reader by describing much of what Uncumber does in the future tense (thereby creating the feeling for us that in this world everything is planned ahead to the very last detail). There is no attempt to engage the reader with the characters in any modern sense of identification or sympathy.
What is possibly unique about this vision of the future is that it is not presented as dystopian or totalitarian - though I am sure that many would disagree with my view. I take this view due to the logical progression of our world into this one (perhaps not with no physical contact in the home, but certainly in retreat from the physical world outside). Ben Elton's This Other Eden has a VERY similar take making me think that he must have read this book. Clearly outsiders have a lot less than insiders, and there are definitely many more of them, but they are not being herded in trucks or being surveilled by BB types. Their lives are hard and deprived, but this is hardly surprising as all societies have more have nots than haves. There are many malcontents, but this is presented as a well established state, rather than one in a time of great change. There is only a hint of why the outside has become such an undesirable place to be.
This is the only Frayn I have read - I have tried others, but I have not been able to finish any. AVPL will remain the one and only Frayn work that I love. Highly recommended for lovers of the futuristic genre.
One day Uncumber gets a chance to see how outside people live. She lives among them for a while, courtesy of a bewildered outsider and his family, who accept charge of Uncumber rather ungraciously (and entertaining use is made of their different languages), but when she wants to go back to her privileged inside existence things don't quite fall into place and Uncumber falls into the hands of a group of what appear to be French brigands.
I found the plot rather predictable, though there is plenty of playful humour in the writing and it is not a boring read. Rather better than Frayn's other venture into the future, Sweet Dreams, this has a point to make, if a rather laboured one. Be careful what you wish for.