Book Review - Metronome

Near-future dystopian debuts have been quite the thing over the past 12 months – see Oona Aristide’s Under the Blue and Kate Sawyer’s The Stranding. Tom Watson’s evocative first novel follows suit.

 Aina and Witney have been living in a dilapidated croft on a windswept island for 12 long years. She’s a musician, he’s a sculptor and his figures dominate the landscape. Their exile is a punishment for having had an illicit child after being denied permission by the state.

The pair are bound to the croft by a clock that dispenses pills every eight hours. It serves as their “leash. A constant metronome, ticking away, keeping them in check.” They’ve been told that melting ice has affected the permafrost, “releasing spumes of toxic bacteria”, so they have to take the pills for their own survival. But when a sheep appears outside their home, Aina starts to question whether they really are marooned on an island.

Aina yearns to be reunited with her son, Maxime, now a young adult, and anxiously awaits the return of the Warden and their parole, but no one arrives to collect them. As the days stretch into weeks, Aina looks back at her life with Witney and what once united them. She begins to doubt that they will be freed and thinks of ways to escape, whereas Witney believes they are being tested. When their convictions begin to fracture, so does their mutual trust.

Watson is strong on atmosphere, creating a suitably bleak landscape, and his exploration of resilience, grief and the human instinct for survival is perceptive. The threat of aggression simmers away, but when violence finally erupts, it feels gratuitous and, at times, Metronome reads like a checklist for dystopian fiction – the protagonists are punished by an oppressive government, survive environmental catastrophe and are controlled by a remote technology – without offering anything particularly new.

Nevertheless, this is a bold debut and Watson is a writer to watch.

Originally published by The Observer