The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
I’m going to talk about this group of books together because, to be honest, I don’t think I could muster up a unique discussion on each book in this set.
This series tackles some heavy topics, big questions about how our memories shape us, the value in experiencing pain and the worth of a peaceful society if no one is free to live a genuine human experience. This aspect of it reminded me of A Clockwork Orange — how much value can you place on ‘good behaviour’ that isn’t chosen through free will? The act of choosing is an important symbol — it can shape an individual or a society.
The opening book, The Giver, is set in a mysterious, ostensibly utopian community where all the inhabitants appear to be content, free from pain of any kind. And yet, it is quickly revealed that this may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Members of the community are trained from an early age to be careful and precise with their speech, rather than expressing themselves with any kind of true emotion. In fact, emotion is discouraged. They are also not free to choose the profession they will spend the rest of their lives performing once their education is complete. Before the big plot-line reveals itself, we are already feeling somewhat stifled in this peaceful little society.
The community itself, and indeed the world in which it is set, are left conveniently vague in terms of back story. It feels as though this world exists in some kind of future of ours, but what was the catalyst that caused the world to change so much? How have these people come to exist so calmly in a totalitarian society? Some hints as to how this future could come about would have been interesting.
As far as dystopian fiction goes, there is limited world building here, but I did find the depiction of the Community interesting. The plot kept me reading also, but I felt a little frustrated when I realised that this series doesn’t focus on the same characters all the way through. There is certainly nothing wrong with this technique, so perhaps my dissatisfaction is due to a lack of resolution in the first book. Certainly, that feeling was the strongest when I moved from the first to the second books, as it is at this point that you are presented with a completely new setting and characters just at the moment that you’re hoping to find out what happened to the protagonist from the first novel.
I get the feeling that this is not the point of this series though. Although it brings up interesting ideas, it doesn’t really leave any grey areas in its handling of them. Everything in these books serves as a symbol in order for the author to make her point on what she feels is right and wrong. And she makes her point over four books. This is my main gripe: I think, standing alone, The Giver is an interesting and well-written book that encourages thought on some vital questions about our humanity, the way we interact with people and the value of imperfection. I didn’t feel that the additional three books added much to my experience of the first and were fairly repetitive in theme. But that is often the way with sequels.
Reading this back, it sounds pretty harsh, so I have to add: I didn’t hate these books. I really enjoyed the first one and the others were interesting enough not to abandon the series. I just couldn’t find enough to love about this quartet.