REVIEW: THE ARK BY ANNABEL SMITH

theark-annabelsmith

THE ARK

Author: Annabel Smith
TheArkbook.com
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Ark gets my vote for the most interesting and clever book I’ve read this year. It’s not your typical narrative, composed instead of emails, instant messages, memos and other documents, forming an epistolary novel with a difference. Leading to the book’s launch I was sent a daily sneak peek for a month … within days I was hooked, waiting eagerly for the 3pm update. The launch itself was pure theatre, with guests playing the role of Ark inhabitants (read more about that here). Once I started reading the book properly, I could not put it down. I’m not exaggerating. So, what’s it about?

The novel opens with a newspaper article explaining that bunker built into Mount Kosciuszko in south-east Australia has been unearthed after being buried for more than 50 years. Seventeen people were recovered, all in good physical health … but what’s their story? Rewind back to 2041 when the world is in chaos due to rapidly dwindling oil supplies, the Australian government has collapsed, and the streets are no longer safe as people do whatever it takes to get food. A team of scientists and their families retreat into The Ark, a seed bunker holding five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. They leave behind family and all they know, for a claustrophobic environment that’s tightly controlled by the charismatic Aiden. As Aiden’s motives and agenda are called into question, The Ark comes to represent a prison for some, but remains a sanctuary for others. With survival at stake, the inhabitants need to decide who they can trust.

Author Annabel Smith has delivered an innovative and astute novel that cleverly draws out authentic human behaviours in a contrived, controlled environment. There’s a good range of characters, giving multiple viewpoints of life inside and outside The Ark. Their fears, frustrations, concerns, set-backs and wins leap off the page in a way I didn’t expect given the nature of the narrative (in this age of social media, we know that one of the biggest drawbacks is the removal of visual cues, such as body language). It wasn’t necessary to be told about the characters’ body language – I could see it and feel it, at times sharing their concerns and later, feeling tension and sadness as events escalated. Smith knows how to make people feel when she writes; to do it using this type of format is a double achievement. Plot-wise, her interpretation of what could happen in the event of a global oil crisis is credible. And sobering. However, while the environmental message underscoring the novel is strong, the authentic character studies stop it from becoming pushy.
The word innovative can also be applied to the add-on aspect of this book – there’s an interactive app and website that supports and enhances the experience of The Ark. Check it out – there are videos, tours, opportunities to write fan fiction and extracts.

 

My husband, who is not a big fiction reader, read The Ark in a couple of sittings. His first impression: “interesting”. On further reflection he added: “I liked it. It was quick to read, and I think it sat fairly close to what you’d expect from people’s behaviour.” Annabel, that’s high praise. I’ll go a bit further – The Ark is fantastic, sinister, stark, compelling, thought-provoking and exciting. Just read it.

Available from TheArkbook.com as an eBook ($9.99) or in print.