BOOK REVIEW: Spare and Found Parts

Title: Spare and Found Parts

Author: Sarah Maria Griffin

Publisher: Titan Books

Published: February 6th 2018

Nell Crane has always been an outsider. In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts—an arm, a leg, an eye—her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs everyone now uses. But Nell is the only one whose mechanical piece is on the inside: her heart.

Frankenstein (1818). Pinocchio (1883). Super-Toys Last All Summer Long (1969). Spare and Found Parts (2018). It seems fitting that Sarah Maria Griffin should be adding to the collection of created life stories in this year above all others. Questions of what does life mean, what is it like to the outsider, and what is a monster are all present and correct in Griffin’s literary debut.

Griffin’s story is a post-apocalyptic allegory as well as an update on the human-as-creator trope. Nell’s story begins just over 100 years after The Turn, when humanity and artificial intelligence seemingly became incompatible. Set in Dublin – although only referred to as being on an island – Griffin never quite tells the reader exactly what happened, but drops hints and suggests clues at appropriate junctures along the way.

What we do know is that there was an epidemic. And of course, society is fractured. Although not as torn apart as in some within this sub-genre. There is the Pasture and the Pale. Nell lives in the Pale, where everyone must contribute – a sort of coming of age – for the good of society. People exist without computers and associated technologies. And all those in the Pale have missing parts – arms, eyes or as in Nell’s case, a heart. So she ticks. Her father is a famous scientist who gave her a clockwork heart and her Nan can remember the time just after the Turn. Nell has no idea what her contribution should be and she lives in the shadow of her genius father. Until the day she finds the hand from a mannequin while salvaging on the beach with her best friend Ruby. She’s never even held a real boy’s hand before…

Nell is the outsider and the outcast. She thinks it’s because she ticks, but has no outward signs of affliction. She is the one who is different and the one who has a world of expectations on her. She has an admirer and a loyal friend. Yet she feels isolated. Her story is to be accepted, both by her father and society at large – even though despite herself she appears to be well liked – and to find the companion she thinks is missing from her life. Her story is one of awakening to the world and discovery, although not all she finds is good. Her story is of the potential that we have lost and maybe one day might find again, with wiser hands.

Griffin is clearly a poet. While the story and general plot might not be wholly original, Griffin does have plenty of skill in side-stepping the obvious or turning expectations on their head. Frankenstein was never the monster of course (and the monster itself is the product of human prejudice) but Nell just might be monstrous. Flick through the book at random and you’ll find something lyrical about the author’s writing. Griffin’s writing has an unusual rhythm from the get-go and it takes a fair few pages to get used to it. But once you do, you are easily comforted by her world. There are interesting second person interludes too in which Griffin tells you, the reader, what you feel and what you remember. Which becomes very smart towards the eventual denouement.

Nell might think of herself in the ways described about, but she is an interesting and related character, full of self-doubt and fear. Her Nan writes to her regularly but she fails to respond despite being aware of the concern her silence must be causing. Yet Nell is brave and determined and her curiosity results in positive outcomes for her. The revelation concerning her father wasn’t at all expected, and takes the book to another level of darkness. However, this is tempered somewhat by his slightly unbelievable under-reaction to events. The only let down in the book.

Griffin has a strong vision and a strong voice and Spare and Found Parts is a thoroughly readable and enjoyable piece of work. The world Griffin creates is complex and progressive (sexuality appears to be fluid, although not specifically commented on) while doing what science fiction does best; questioning our choices today. The paperback cover is awesome too. While probably not ever going to be known as a classic, nor mentioned alongside Frankenstein in years to come, Spare and Found Parts is an interesting addition to the genre.

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Ian J SImpson

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