The Olive Readers, by Christine Aziz

A future shock of reading, writing and revolution
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The Independent Culture

Sisters Jephzat and Hephzibah live with their parents in the Olive Country. Hephzibah disappears with Water soldiers and Jephzat's parents are sent away, leaving Jephzat in a big old house that is discovered to contain a secret room filled with forbidden artefacts of enormous power.

Christine Aziz's debut, which won the Richard and Judy novel-writing competition, begins with a slightly disconcerting prologue in which the narrator addresses the present reader from the future. This is followed by a peppering of rhetorical questions, setting an early tone of uncertainty and doubt.

Narrative hopes are raised by the discovery of a woman's body - on the seabed. The fish have been busy, but one can see she was beautiful, as beautiful perhaps as Hephzibah, who has been missing. Thanks to an unexplained coincidence, on which the plot turns with a creak, the story is not that straightforward.

Central is an underground movement of unlikely revolutionaries: Readers, with a capital R. The key to the future success of the revolution are Readers from the Olive Country. They frequent a secret library in Jephzat's house. Classic texts, some complete with translations into Federese, the universal tongue, are revered alongside works by the saintly Maya.

The library assumes canonical status. That a new canon is arguably being created by the twin phenomena of book groups and celebrity advocacy perhaps explains the triumph of The Olive Readers. It's not only about books and reading, but it encourages readers to give themselves a pat on the back. Increasingly, it feels as though this country has become one enormous book club, and an individual who admits to not having read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Da Vinci Code or, inevitably, The Olive Readers is made to seem at best disdainfully elitist, at worst somewhat perverse.

Nicholas Royle's latest novel, 'Antwerp', is published by Serpent's Tail