The ebook revolution has come of age. This is a truly interactive novel, and the first thing that’s ever made me actually want to own an iPad (or similar). To truly get ‘into’ the story you are advised to be connected while you read this book. If you have a wifi enabled ereader or access to the internet while reading, you can seriously enhance your experience. I’m not saying have more ‘fun’ because ‘fun’ isn’t what this book is about, but it does add an extra dimension to the whole unsettling experience.
Wyton wakes up after 5 years in a coma, a victim of the 7/7 terrorist bombing. He has many unanswered questions and the novel’s relatively simple plot belies the depth of the narrative. On the surface it might seem to be another dystopian Orwellian offshoot; Winston Smith clearly transmogrified into Wynton Smith. But the point of this novel is to look beneath the surface, beyond the obvious and behind the questions. Pearce suggests that unless you ask questions you will be fed the answers. And when you do ask questions you may be surprised by what you learn. The culturally dissociated character of Wynton offers a distance from which viewpoint a dark realisation (sometimes comedic, as in the case of the smoking ban) forces an awareness on the readers part of how quickly and innocuously social change is being effected in our current society.
Using an updated variation of the Ninteen Eighty Four story actually helps the reader away from a focus on plot towards the guts of the narrative. We have Winston as Wynton and other 1984 characters also feature. Julia is in evidence, sporting a hajib and Dr Westbook makes a truly chilling version of O’Brien but it is questions surrounding the manipulation, recreation and invention of ‘truth’ which is the real purpose of the narrative. Big Brother casts a long shadow into both Wynton’s fictional life and our own real lives.
Maybe you have to have a penchant for conspiracy theories to be fully drawn into the story, but as to whether this is standard conspiracy theory, I don’t think so. The novel calls into question just what conspiracy theory actually means. A dictionary definition suggests it as a belief that some covert but influential organisation is responsible for an unexplained event.
But I think conspiracy theories emerge at the point where fact and fiction blur and it’s in this respect that Google Questions plays with the concept of conspiracy theories. It unpacks them from a meta-perspective. It’s very, very clever and very, very unsettling.
I count myself as pretty media savvy, after all I’ve spent years researching and writing my own dystopic fiction, but even I learned plenty from the questions and hyperlinks Pearce offers as an integral part of his fiction. Pearce’s masterstroke is to show that you can’t believe all you read on Google. In the same way that characters are ‘created’ by an author, so ‘truths’ are ‘created’ on the internet. I don’t want to spoil any of the story but you need to check the links and think hard about what’s behind the ‘truth’s’ expressed there. I don’t just mean the veracity of Google or Wikipedia, I mean you have to really look. And think. And question.
A ‘choice’ of endings is offered by going to YouTube links. This is an absolutely master-touch, showing how much care and attention Pearce has lavished on the construction of the world of his novel. You can pick your own ending. Pearce has played with technology in order to show the possibilities of the ebook format. For that alone the ebook is worth ‘interacting’ with. But it’s a jolly good read too. More than once.
Don’t believe everything you read in this novel. But don’t disbelieve it either.
Reviewed by Cally Phillips
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