Review of Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, in Dark Lullaby a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.
When Kit decides to have a child, she thinks she’s prepared. She knows how demanding Induction is. She’s seen children Extracted. But in a society where parenting is strictly monitored under the watchful gaze of OSIP (The Office of Standards in Parenting), she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

There was something deeply personal about reading Dark Lullaby, speaking honestly as someone who suffered from PND and often felt massively inadequate as a first time parent I couldn’t help but put myself in the place of the parents we meet in this book. It’s a path that has been trodden before, a society beset by infertility where children are revered, however, Dark Lullaby takes it to a new level with the sinister OSIP. Literally anyone, anywhere can be waiting to pounce, to pass judgement on the smallest infringement of their overbearing standards of parenting. Feeding, sleeping, soothing, these are all things that as parents now we struggle through but with support, to think of doing that alone and under scrutiny of failure made this a heart shattering read at times.

Told in an alternating “Then” and “Now” style we see Kit go from an “Out” the term for woman who chose not to go through Induction to the desperate mother we meet in the opening chapters. How eventually a society obsessed with child bearing reduces a woman’s worth to almost zero if they chose to remove themselves from the process. Substandard housing and career stagnation can all be escaped by fulfilling your destiny as a woman to produce a child. Its sad to see the pro’s and con’s of having a child weighed initially in lifestyle perks and how conditioned women become, even knowing the pain and risk involved, that this is the ultimate in achievement.

There was something utterly compelling about Kit’s story though, understanding the choices she makes through what she has witnessed and what she believes society requires of her is stunningly written. Despite the heavy subject matter it doesn’t feel heavy to read, I found myself bounding through the pages, the short and snappy chapters building up to the storm we know is coming, the urgency of Kit’s quest spilling into my fingers and I turned page after page desperate to know how it ends. Whilst the connection to The Handmaids Tale is fair given the subject, it’s actually the Black Mirror feel that stood out more starkly for me. Everything should be questioned and I was left with an uneasy satisfaction at the way things played out, which is a curious feeling and one that I don’t think a book has ever left me with before.

Even though my own experiences made this a difficult read in places, it was as brilliant as I hoped it would be from the blurb and the stunning cover. There is also some pretty clever propaganda floating around from the publisher which you should definitely seek out too to round out the reading experience. Thank you as always to Titan Books for providing me with an early copy of Dark Lullaby for review.

4 Stars


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