The Generation is Holly Cave’s first novel, set in a dystopian London of the mid twenty-first century, in a future governed by a totalitarian state which forces compulsory genetic screening at birth. The book explores ideas of identity in a world where you are told exactly who you are going to grow up to be.
The action revolves around a small group of individuals in their early twenties, grappling with ideas of identity that, in places, hit fairly closely to home. Cave’s writing can feel very honest and in places cut straight to the heart of an emotion. She couples this with moments of stunningly beautiful description, encapsulating a setting with an amazingly simple clarity. The book contains the gorgeous imagery of a world that feels as if it could be just around the corner, helped by the local setting of London – be it in 2052. Some of the prose of the book even provoked physical responses from me as I found myself smiling or grimacing alongside the writing.
The novel takes on some fairly current scientific topics, from prenatal genetic screening and hereditary diseases to genetic control of sexual orientation, and manages to give the dystopian future setting a fairly new angle. Despite this, such a state controlled version of the future feels overdone in fiction and even though Cave gives it an interesting angle, this doesn’t ever feel fully realised within the book. There is a continual introduction of new ideas throughout, each deserving of its own investigation but none receiving more than a cursory pondering pause from one of the characters. These extra ideas, from the inherent nature of science to the binary nature of decision-making, weaken the overall theme of identity, meaning you lose sight of it.
A similar issue is seen within her characterisation. Despite moments of beautiful characterisation, new aspects of the protagonists’ personality aren’t revealed until the very end of the narrative. I never quite felt that I had a grip on any of them and in many cases the new information weakened a characterisation I had previously been impressed by.
Saying this, I did find myself drawn into the world painted by the novel, in some places eagerly anticipating when I could pick it up again. She teasingly eases you into her future world, which is just recognisable enough to feel possible. I didn’t feel that the novel lived up to how promising it seemed from the first few chapters, but the moments of beauty drew me back in and in places it showed a fantastic use of pace.
Holly Cave is an author with what appears an innate ability for stunning lyricism, but this is a book that I wanted to be bigger than what it was and to go deeper into the world that it hints at. I look forward to what comes next from this fledgling author.
Holly Bestley is studying for an MSc in Science Communication