MAGGIE ALLDER’s novel Living with the Leopard is set in the fairly near but unfortunately recognisable future, in post-Brexit England, where the ill and increasing homeless are considered feckless skivers, and religion, however mild, is labelled extremism. The Government controls by operation of Benefits, the ATTF (Anti-Terrorism Task Force), informers, and 1984-style surveillance.
Carrie, the protagonist, is denied career opportunities, having refused to “take the Oath of Allegiance”. But “Opposing authority is a little like sharing your life with a wild animal. You never know when it will pounce!” Hence the Leopard.
”The Leopard” is also Illness: the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (suffered also by the author), which dogs the young Carrie — and the whole narrative — and produces one of the funnier aspects of the book, the corrective government course that Carrie has to attend to confront this anti-social condition.
Themes of political re-alignment (England is part of the two-country “Alliance”, but Scotland is in the European Union), closed borders, people-smuggling, climate change (there are humming-birds and “new” violent storms), and underground groups recur throughout. The young couple, Carrie and Tom, members of a Quaker-like community, are evading arrest for the “terrorism” of feeding the homeless and housing a dissident. They must also steer their marriage through illness and suspicion.
Because of the simple character of the protagonist, this feels like a novel for younger readers: sometimes frustrating in its evasion of detail because of its future setting. The geography and place-names are vague, as are time references — “the previous century . . . a generation or more ago . . . in the fashion of the day . . . [clothes] made from some new fair-trade substance”, etc.
Their religious affiliations are to “the society to which our community belongs”; they keep silences, minister, and hold each other “in the Light”. Conversely, there is much domestic detail and reference to electronic devices. But it is a thought-provoking work (the second of a planned trilogy), has an ingenuous readability, and is probably only too prophetic.
Living with the Leopard: Challenged faith, threatened marriage, suspected betrayal . . .
Matador £7.99 (978-1-78589-358-2)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20