November 06, 2014

Ghost in the Machine (Review: Echo Boy by Matt Haig)


Echo Boy
Echo Boy
Matt Haig
Random House 2014

Space year 2115 - the future! Travel the globe and beyond in seconds, live forever thanks to insatiable advancements in medical science and, if you like, never leave the safety of your home again whilst living a better virtual life on-line!  I know, what's not to like, right?  Well, murderous robots, that's what.  When Audrey emerges from her on-line school lesson one rainy morning to find her family's Echo standing over the bodies of her parents holding a bloodied knife, the future isn't looking quite so bright.

In a world of constant advancement, Audrey's father resists technology as much as possible.  He is concerned that there will inevitably come a time when the robots so widely accepted in every home will become too intelligent, too dangerous. This is a contentious point of view in 2115, especially when your brother happens to own one of the largest manufacturers of Echos (friendly neighbourhood synthetic humanoids) in the world.  At the very least it makes Christmas dinner really awkward. Audrey's uncle on the other hand is the King of the robotic revolution - where people want help there is money to be made and Alex is more than happy to take it from them.  In a world of grimy and decaying cities, Alex is literally the man in the ivory tower.

And it is during a period of bizarre enforced seclusion at her Uncle's mansion after fleeing the scene of her parents' murder that Audrey meets Daniel, an Echo that, as it turns out, isn't quite what he seems.  Can Daniel help Audrey uncover the truth about her parents' deaths?  And can he really be nothing more than a walking computer programme when he seems to be so much more?

It's sci-fi, it's romance, it's a crime thriller but in all honesty, it was all just a little too much.  I have heard Matt Haig describe Echo Boy as an amalgam of everything he loved as a teenager but sadly, this doesn't seem to gel quite as he would have hoped.  The world building, whilst vivid, seemed clunky and overly elaborate and it just killed the pacing for me.  At points I became so bogged down that I lost enthusiasm to even pick it back up.  But the biggest disappointment for me was the lack of the wonderful black humour that we have come to expect from Matt - It was all a little relentlessly grim.  The characterisation was really lacking for me also - whilst I can forgive Daniel being a little flat (you know, seeing as he's a robot) there was really no excuse for me not to feel any connection with Audrey.  She is really the only constant human character and, for such a lot of page time, there seemed to be very little effort made in getting the reader to engage with her. Latterly I just felt that I was reading a series of events that were happening to these 2 individuals, I had next to no interest in Audrey and Daniel's fate.

Whilst there is no denying that Echo Boy explores some very relevant themes very eloquently; namely morality of advancing technology; it is questionable as to whether it really hits the spot as a work of young adult fiction.  A little dry, a little oddly paced and just a little low-key.  A disappointing outing from Mr Haig for me, fingers crossed for his next apocalyptic adventure.


This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph. Echo Boy is available now. Thank you to Random House, via NetGalley, for sending us this title to review.