From Publishers Weekly
Thomson's latest dystopian novel (after The Book of Revelation)
begins in brilliant, unsettling fashion when a young boy is taken by government decree from his parents during the initial stages of the Rearrangement, which occurs in a totalitarian, near-future England. In this brave new world, the country's entire population is forcibly reorganized and relocated into autonomous zones according to psychology, or the four humors: choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. Placed in an orphanage, renamed Thomas Parry and transferred to a new family in the Red Quarter (for sanguine types), he settles in with a father overwhelmed by the loss of his relocated wife and a promiscuous sister desperate for human connection. As an adult, Thomas takes a clandestine job with the government, but soon risks being charged with "undermining the state" when he begins a spur-of-the-moment voyage across borders in search, at first, of his real parents and his true self. Despite a cleverly imagined political system and the promise of sharp social criticism, this allegory limps to an ending that belies its inspired start.
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In this dystopian novel, the population of the United Kingdom has been divvied up into color-coded sectors determined by humor: the phlegmatic, the melancholic, the choleric, and the sanguine. Under this system, temperament trumps kinship—in a neat twist, the family unit is now considered responsible for "society's disintegration"—and separation is enforced by border guards and government informers. At first, Thomson's hero, Thomas Parry, seems content, as befits his sanguine designation. A rising star in the Red Quarter bureaucracy, he supervises the expulsion of unsatisfactory citizens to other regions. But when, on a rare visit to another quarter, he is issued a mysterious invitation to a night club, where he seems to return to his pre-division life, his faith in the absolute categorization of personality is shaken. Although Thomson's plotting is distinctly schematic—"Brave New World" is his obvious model—he succeeds in imparting a sense of urgency to his hero's search for identity.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker