The Choice by Claire Wade is set in an alternative world, one where sugar is banned, exercise is compulsory and every supermarket visit is preceded by a weigh-in. It is a Big Brother world where a new government, initially intent on preventing sickness and encouraging healthy living, has gone OTT and taken control of the smallest details of people’s lives.
Olivia used to be a baker before the changes. When she lost her shop, she lost her reason for living. And so she subsists, making the best of the meal plans approved by Mother Mason, chivvying her friend Alice to keep to the rules and stay out of trouble, and worrying about the effect all of this is having on husband Danny and their two children. And then she gets a glimpse of a fightback. Is Olivia brave enough to join the protest, or will she play safe to protect her family? Of course she fights, in the only way she knows how. It starts in a small way, baking cakes for the local protest group to raise money for the cause. But then her rebellion gets way out of hand and she is faced with shame and condemnation.
The premise for this novel is fascinating and it reads as a freely-written novel, by which I mean the writer let the story flow and go where it wanted to. This adds to the excitement but it also left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied [like one of Mother Mason’s dietary-approved snack bars]. This is a hugely ambitious subject to tackle – one which, in the real world, we are struggling to address – so perhaps it is not surprising that the ending fades away with a lightweight conclusion. But the middle section is a rip-roaring read of domestic fightback. The passages in the detention centre and the shame box are great group scenes and this is where the novel is strongest.
I was left feeling the absence of a male voice – the key characters are all women – and longed for a deeper exploration of a challenge facing modern society with slightly less about cake ingredients. If you like Bake Off you will probably love this!
Claire Wade won the 2018 Good Housekeeping Novel Competition
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