The ‘effect’ is extreme empathy, and while Susan Svendsen is a strong example of the surprising results of being an empath, if she is together with her twins their power is multiplied by three: grumpy people smile, reveal themselves, their secrets, roll over backwards in attempts to please, and—most important—change the odds in their criminal attempts to advantage themselves and other ‘elite’ associates in creating a new world as civilisation appears to break down entirely. That their assumptions might hasten that breakdown doesn’t seem to bother them unduly. And who are ‘they’? They were a committee (of sorts) of young people from many fields who were brought together to have ideas about helping civilisation itself, though their astonishing gifts enabled them to predict a series of global disasters. Neither
Susan nor her about-to-be-former husband know that they are on the list of ‘elite’ citizens who are to be saved. All they know is that they have suddenly been repatriated from India in order, it seems, to be tried for offences committed in South Asia. It doesn’t seem possible to say any more, since any hint about why their lives seem suddenly at risk would involve A Very Big Reveal.

What I can say is that while this is a book which belongs in a long lineage of protecting-the-planet plots (yes, Miss Smilla haunts the pages), or a shorter lineage of post-apocalypse novels (no, not Cormac McCarthy). For one thing, the book is too funny to be a serious thriller, though it certainly shares conventions with thrillers (‘I have no idea what’s going on here but I’m damned well going to find out’). Hoeg doesn’t always control the nitty gritty of the multiplying murders, and comedy undermines seriousness when, for example, Laban (the ATBF husband) evades capture by turning a Chinese delegation into something remarkably like a glee club. Still, Hoeg writes well, Aitken translates well, and I read this in a few hours. Nonetheless, this is by no means a trivial book, but one which asks Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (who will guard the guardians)?

Peter Hoeg, The Susan Effect, trans. Martin Aitken (Harvill Secker) ISBN-13: 978-1910701294

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