Rachel Heng’s dystopian debut novel “Suicide Club” is like watching the “Black Mirror” episode “San Junipero” for the first time.
It’s hard to get your bearings, at first, but eventually you fall in love with the writing and the characters.
Like “Black Mirror,” Heng’s book features amazing technological advancements which are not necessarily for the better.
“San Junipero” and “Suicide Club” share other similarities: both are love stories about living forever and self-discovery, featuring girls living a lie.
In “Suicide Club’s” case, the girl is Lea Kirino, a 100 year old who looks no older than 50.
For a “Lifer” like her, being 100 years old isn’t an incredible achievement. It’d be a failure. “Three hundred was now the number to beat,” writes Heng.
Part of that comes down to good genes (Lea’s comes from Japanese parents known for their longevity). If you’re deemed naturally healthy and have the right temperament, you’re prescribed a strict eating and exercise regimen that consists of DiamondSkinTM, ToughMuscTM and RepairantsTM — stuff that will eliminate wrinkles, instantly heal cuts and expand a human’s life span so it nears immortality.
If you’re not blessed with good genes, you’re labeled a “sub-100,” and will naturally die young. No DiamondSkinTM, ToughMuscTM or RepairantsTM will be spared in prolonging your life. It’s sad, but that’s natural selection at work.
Like most Lifers, Lea’s goal is to become one of the few and first Lifers selected for the “Third Wave” of scientific and medical advancements designed to make you immortal, but when she accidentally steps in front of a car in an attempt to chase after a man who looks like her father, a man who’s been exiled and labeled as an antisanct for taking someone’s life, Lea gets flagged as an attempted suicide case, jeopardizing her own chances of being invited to the “Third Wave.”
Through mandatory group therapy meetings and attempts to find her father, Lea also meets the Suicide Club, a radical underground organization of Lifers who’ve had enough of the endless soulless days following the strictly government-mandated rules of what to eat, breathe and do. Like Lea, they’ve been flagged as attempted suicide cases and are monitored by government agents enlisted to enforce the status quo; the supplements they’ve taken as Lifers have made it impossible to “take a kitchen knife to your wrists and watch the life pour out of your veins” (You skin will heal before you bleed). Their philosophy: to really live, they have to be able to choose how they die.
Despite the subject matter, “Suicide Club” isn’t death-defying for its genre. “Suicide Club” feels like Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” trilogy and other dystopian young adult coming of age novels I’ve devoured in one sitting. Perhaps that’s why I like Heng’s debut so much. Like “Black Mirror,” “Twilight Zone,” or “Brave New World,” “Suicide Club” explores what humanity might wish for and shows how things might be OK as they already are.
Fun fact: “Black Mirror’s” “San Junipero” episode actually inspired the design of “Suicide Club’s” UK book cover.