One of the mini-challenges within my #20booksofsummer reading is to read a rainbow. The violet cover category has been giving me all sorts of bother. Much as I loved his first novel, I had to abandon Francis Plug’s Writer in Residence. Too much like the first one and just too darn silly for COVID-19 times. I audio-read Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley, her memoirs of life working, frequently as the lone female, in Silicone Valley. Interesting, but she makes too much of many situations. I can say that, I worked in IT for 30 years, also coming to the industry in a non-technical support position. Was patronised too – for a while. Just got on with it and well, the patronising was soon history. I much preferred Ellen Ullman’s Close to the Machine. Ullman is of my generation, and much less woke than Wiener.
Anyway, this is a case of third time lucky, very lucky indeed.
In these times we’re all used to prime ministerial press conferences (and the frequent outrage that often follows). So imagine this. Following the publication of photographs of 3 people whose skin is completely purple, Theo Fletcher, the suave and eligibly single Prime Minister, stands before the door of number 10 and announces:
“These pictures are not hoax. Nor do they illustrate the results of any terrorist activity, chemical accident or unintentional contamination … The truth is for many years we have seen a steep decline in decent behaviour and respect, and an increase in rudeness, harassment and mindless, thoughtless violence. This is wholly unacceptable. … There are those who believe they can ignore the rules that all good, honest people abide by; that there will be no consequences to their actions … these people are bruises on society.”
The British government has devised a punishment to fit the crime. These bruises on society are turned purple. The process is mysterious. They commit a crime and the following morning they wake up purple with no idea how they have been turned. There is no physically pain. But all and sundry can judge them by purely by the colour of their skin.
Journalist, Eva Baxter is called home to Blighty because her father, a victim of assault, is lying in hospital with head injuries. His prognosis is uncertain. Like most people she is shocked at the government’s action, and yet, she feels a certain satisfaction at the perpetrators punishment. Then again her brother, Simon, is the kind of yob highly likely to attract a new hue at some time in the future. This conflict makes Eve the ideal person to navigate the issues surrounding the devisive new policy, to act as mediator in the marriage of her best friends, Womble and Helena, (passionately pro and against respectively) and to investigate the purpling process (because that what good journalists do).
Given the fundamental issues of justice at stake, and the sociological and psychological repercussions, the novel could get weighed down with its own importance, but Bulpitt does not lecture. She uses plot and character to illustrate and highlight the issues, reserving truly explosive moments for the inevitable mass protest and the warring marrieds. No matter what side of the argument or even fence you, the reader, is on you will hear all sides of the argument, and you will be mightily entertained in the process.
This is a clever satire of Brexit Britain, because other policies of Theo Fletcher’s government include the Repeal, which results in the Rollback, where spontaneously many things culturally and socially begin to reverse. The public like the nostalgia, with products wrapped in packaging of yesterday selling like hotcakes, though funnily enough I don’t think parma violets got a specific mention. Yet this is the world of the prying Portal and newer developments would slink back into the shadows when you weren’t looking …. Lulled into a false sense of security by the sweetie wrappers, the public see no reason to object … that is until the era of Purpleness is upon them.
There was a lot of very enjoyable wordplay around the colour of the moment. As the novel progresses there is an increase in the “reasons to be purpled”. (Why does Ian Drury come to mind whenever I see that phrase?) Perpetrators become purpetrators. The newspapers have a field day as you imagine, with The Sun being the most effective. Combining the derogatory ‘chav’ with a dose of purple colouring (lavender) and some toilet humour, and what do you have? The new name for a purpled one is a ‘lav’.
Purple People isn’t perfect – I did find it a little baggy. I would happily have forgone all of Eva’s soul-searching re the one who got away, Magnus, but then events did keep conspiring to bring them together when Eva returned to Blighty after a 10 year absence. After all, she hadn’t really got over him …
Apart from that, I loved it. An enjoyable surprise. A great debut. A great cover.