Replica by Jack Heath review

9780192737663Replica

by Jack Heath

Oxford University Press, August 2014

‘Whose body is that on the table?’ I ask.

She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious.

‘It’s yours,’ she says.

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her. Who is she? And what does she want? Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she’s in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems…

This book was so fast-paced it almost made me breathless, but I enjoyed the ride. There was a really good twist at the end which I had partly guessed at, but it didn’t play out quite the way I had expected. The trouble with this kind of book is that they are very hard to review without giving too much away! I would say go read it then come back and tell me what you think – but for those who want to know more, read on (only minor plot spoilers).

In one of the most attention-grabbing openings to a book that I’ve read in a long while, the action begins with Chloe strapped to a table in her basement, unable to move from the neck down and, even more scarily, watched over by a girl who looks exactly like her. I was already hooked, wanting to know how she would get out of this impossible situation. But by the start of chapter two, I was reeling again – when I discovered that Chloe is in fact a replica, a machine created by the real Chloe. It was a hard enough adjustment to make as a reader – but imagine waking up, thinking you’re human and then realising you’re actually a robot. And that you’re childhood memories aren’t even your own – they are just copies of someone else’s to make you believe you are actually them. From there on the story follows replica Chloe as she strives to fulfil the role she was created for and tries to figure out why a sinister military group have been tracking the real Chloe. There is also an unusual romance thread woven in, a really quite sweet side to the story, but I won’t give too much away about that.

The weirdest part of this whole scenario is that replica Chloe has to go to real Chloe’s school, hang out with her friends, have dinner with her parents, all without revealing what she truly is. I think it raised some really interesting questions about identity, particularly the role memories  play in who we are – replica Chloe is able to get a long way on with her charade by drawing on real Chloe’s bank of memories and shared experiences with people. And all the while she does feel like she is Chloe – and has to keep reminding herself that she isn’t. It was hard to identify with a narrating character in such a bizarre situation, but because replica Chloe thinks and feels like a real human being it was possible to connect with her experience and empathise – I just kept getting an uncanny chill down my spine every time there was a reminder that she was actually a robot. In many ways it seems unfair that she is made to think for herself and to feel real emotions, but then she wouldn’t have been able to fulfil her role if she had been any less human. She is admirable for her loyalty and protectiveness towards Chloe’s family and friends, but this is also sad because deep down she knows that those connections aren’t real and she feels very alone in the world.

I think that Chloe’s state of existence was explored really well but, because of that focus, perhaps, the other characters weren’t as well fleshed out as they could have been: best friend Henrietta seemed funny and chirpy and there were hints of more troubled undertones to her, but we never really saw much beneath the surface. We did learn a bit more about Chloe’s schoolmate Becky, though, and I thought she was a likeable, strong character – it was good that replica Chloe had one person she felt she could trust in what was otherwise a very harsh situation. All in all, though, it was a riveting read – I’ll definitely be tempted to try some of Jack Heath’s other books.

I’ll leave you with my favourite extract from the book, words spoken by Becky:

‘When I was a little girl my brother told me this theory he had. He said that our bodies were like pinboards, and our memories were like photographs. Basically, he thought that the only function of our bodies was to carry our memories around… The last time I spoke to him, he was in a lot of pain and on a lot of drugs, but he did manage to say something. He said, “The pinboard is all worn out. But you can keep the photos.”‘

Thank you to OUP for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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