A superb immigration dystopia
Britain, the not-too-distant future.
Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.
He wants his family to belong.
Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.
When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.
How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?
As someone who has lived in multiple countries, I’ve always been interested in immigration and the policies and rhetoric that surrounds it. While immigrants frequently feature in fiction, rarely (to my knowledge) is the process itself the central focus of the story. Set against a subtly dystopian backdrop, this is an interesting, well-written and sometimes thought-provoking story. I enjoyed this.
Shortly after beginning, Idir’s UK citizenship test is upended when armed men storm the room. Thrust into the centre of the situation, he is confronted with impossible choices, forced to confront who he is as a man and as an immigrant, and to question what he thinks makes him a good man. As events unfold, we learn more about this future UK, the processes of gaining citizenship, and a black mirror-esque impression of the cruelty of governments and immigration. [Really don’t want to throw out any spoilers, so that may not be the best way to describe the novella’s contents…]
Before The Test, I had only read one of Neuvel’s novels (Sleeping Giants), which I quite enjoyed. I was really interested to see what he did with this subject, and I’m very glad to report that this is a very good novella. It lays bare some of the issues at the heart of citizenship tests — for example, an offhand comment from a British/English character that they likely wouldn’t be able to pass the test, or questioning why a certain question is relevant to being a good citizen. It’s a dystopia, sure, but through this exaggerated scenario, Neuvel discusses some of the emotional stress and anxiety that comes from taking such a test — especially when you’re applying in a country that exhibits some/many racial and cultural biases.
As the clusterfuck that is Brexit continues to spiral out of control, this novella acquires a certain sense of tragic foreshadowing…
Sylvain Neuvel’s The Test is out now, published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK.