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Kirstin Innes: Dystopian fiction could easily be our own not-too-distant-at-all future

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25.05.2022

Last week, I hosted the launch of Falkirk-born Scottish Egyptian author Rachelle Atalla’s debut novel, The Pharmacist.

It’s speculative fiction, set in one of those particularly unsettling dystopias that only feels as though it’s a few years off our own, in the not-too-distant-at-all future.

In the world of The Pharmacist, which Atalla recreates in terrifyingly claustrophobic detail, something has happened- the reader presumes nuclear war, but is never fully informed – and the remnants of society, at least of one city, have been confined to an underground bunker for what feels like decades, but is revealed in fact to have been less than a year.

We meet the inhabitants of Atalla’s subterranean world through the eyes of Wolfe, the titular pharmacist, who has made it into the bunker by virtue of her specialisation, although she’s had to leave loved ones to die above ground to be there.

As Wolfe is our only point of entry here, the world we see is coloured by what she wants to disclose to us; the things that she can’t bring herself to face, through denial and mental fatigue, are only sketched out for us.

I first read The Pharmacist about six months ago – one of the perks of being an author (actually, just about the only one, if I’m being totally honest) is that publishers send you advance copies of all the most exciting new books – and the world Atalla has depicted has stayed with me since.

I........

© Evening Express


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