Author: Eilís Barrett
Publisher: Gill Books
I hope you all had a great week. As I’m sitting here writing this post, I’m looking out my window at the dark, dank, wet, cloudy day. The Irish weather has well and truly returned. It’s hard to believe that only a week ago we were all fit to drop with the heat!
In this post I’ll be talking about the latest book I just finished reading, Oasis by Eilís Barrett. Eilís hails from my home county (Galway) in the west of Ireland, where she shares a home with her mother and three brothers. According to the author description on the back cover, Eilís and her brothers are home-schooled by their mother who is committed to helping her children follow their passion. Oh and I forgot to mention…she is only SIXTEEN YEARS OLD 😵. At the age of twelve, Eilís decided to commit to a career as an author and by the time she was fifteen, she had written two full length novels and signed a publishing deal with Gill Books. I mean, what an incredible achievement for someone so young! And she’s already working on a follow up to Oasis. Speaking of which, here’s some of the thoughts I had about it.
Oasis takes place in the future, in a large walled-off city, after the world has been ravaged by a mysterious virus. Here, it’s inhabitants are divided into those who are Pure and those who are Dormant. It follows the story of Quincy Emerson (narrated by her), a young girl who was taken from her family at the age of seven and forced to fend for herself in the tough dormitories where the other Dormant inhabitants of Oasis reside, after being deemed a danger to society due to a supposed X gene that could trigger at any moment. The Government of Oasis holds quarterly selections, where six citizens are selected as Subjects. These Subjects are transferred to the Labs where they are experimented on in an attempt to find a cure for the virus. But there is a sinister catch-those that enter the labs are never seen again. So what is the incentive to comply, when you won’t even live long enough to see the cure you supposedly helped create? When Quincy is selected as a Subject, she decides to try to flee the city before the authorities transfer her to what she sees as certain death. On the outside, she meets a rag-tag group of fellow runaways who inform her of an insurgency group that is intent on bringing Oasis down.
The story is told at breakneck speed, which both helps and hinders it. It’s helpful in the sense that the story doesn’t really drag and as such the readers attention is likely to be held the whole way through. But it’s also hindered in the sense that the quick narrative doesn’t leave much wriggle room to explore the world of Oasis and it’s inhabitants further. I found myself on a couple of occasions wishing I could know more about something that was mentioned, but the story just continued on. One such example of this can been seen in relation to Quincy being selected as a Subject. She escapes almost immediately after, but it would have been nice if we could have seen what happens to the Subjects once they are chosen, before Quincy escapes. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing; as a sequel is in the works, chances are good we will get more of an insight into the history and machinations of Oasis in the future.
In terms of writing style, it is beautifully expressive, case in point being the opening pages that describe the removal of a seven year old Quincy from her parents and home, which convey the panic and disorder of an uprooted child painfully, yet brilliantly. The writing is also often indicative of an insightful mind that one might not usually associate with someone of such a young age. At one point, Quincy wonders: “Maybe freedom is knowing who you are, so no one can try and make you think you’re someone else”. I get the feeling this line is somewhat autobiographical, describing Barrett herself.
I must admit though, I’m torn over how I feel about the character of Quincy. In the beginning, I loved her strong, resilient nature. But I feel some of this was lost when she escapes the walls of Oasis for the outside world. Here, I found she became more whiny and melodramatic and constantly trying to “breath around the lump” in her throat. To be fair, her escape, as you will see, was traumatic, but I found myself getting to a point where I just wanted her to stop moaning and get moving again, particularly around the middle section of the book. There is also another example of the novels pacing being a bit quick here also. Quincy meets the group on the outside, and far to quickly becomes a prominent member, giving rallying speeches and arranging foraging missions. But it feels more forced to suit the plot than it does earned. Other characters range from compelling to underused. Kole is interesting in that he is a reluctant, conflicted leader of the rebel group, Clarke is a suspicious character whose true motivations and feelings are hard to interpret which leads to the others being suspicious of her, and Aaron goes from being one of Quincy’s biggest allies to one of her biggest nightmares. All three make an impression. The same can’t be said for Bea. She is introduced and helps Quincy to reach a decision about trying to escape, yet they don’t appear to bond very much. Her back story is slightly touched upon, and she doesn’t appear much in the book yet we are supposed to empathize with Quincy when Bea ends up influencing most of her decisions throughout the story. Once again it feels kind of forced.
The books finale is exhilarating, with some reveals that genuinely come as a shock due to clever writing designed to conceal them earlier in the story line. But while the ending leaves the door open for more exploration in future novels, it comes so abruptly that it almost slams to a stop, and feels like the novel hasn’t drawn to a proper close.
Ultimately, despite not necessarily reinventing the dystopian fiction genre, Oasis should share the shelf with it’s Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent contemporaries quite confidently. It grabs the attention, it’s well written for the majority and does have an interesting story line with some compelling characters, with the last third of the book a highlight. But it does have some faults, in that it doesn’t explain some things that are mentioned before moving on, some points in the story feel forced and its ending comes too abruptly and feels stunted. However, Oasis is a great achievement from a young author who is only going to get better and better with each book. Any dystopian fiction fan should give this one a look in.