Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock

47 North, 2020, 197 p.

 Bridge 108 cover

Bridge 108 is an expansion of the author’s novella The Enclave which won the BSFA Award for 2017 and is set against a backdrop of environmental degradation (drought, wildfires) in Southern Europe which has precipitated an exodus northwards. On such a journey fourteen-year-old Caleb was separated from his mother and trafficked to Britain where he has ended up in one of the enclaves set outside the mainstream of society. ‘Normal’ (non-enclave citizens) are chipped and inoculated and so cannot become addicted to drugs, gambling or alcohol nor apparently commit crime.

Life in an enclave among the unchipped ‘organics’ (who either refused the chipping – because you lose your spark – or else never had it for some other reason such as crime in the family) is not quite dog-eat-dog but the police venture there infrequently and prefer to ignore the goings-on, unless it involves illegal immigrants or murder. When we start, Caleb is working for Ma Lexie, a dealer in upcycled clothing, whose business is in turn a subsidiary of the dodgy family enterprises of her late husband, Ruben. Caleb hasn’t quite settled down in the enclave (he is locked in at night) and exchanges messages with the similarly trapped Odette on the adjacent roof via a weighted plastic bottle.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Caleb, Ma Lexie, Skylark (the young girl who trafficked Caleb,) Jerome (an undercover immigration officer,) Jaspar (Ma Lexie’s de facto boss,) and Officer Sonia, a simulant – further beyond the chipped members of society than they are to the unchipped ‘organics’ of the enclaves – who is portrayed as lacking in empathy. Apart from Caleb, who relates five of the ten chapters, each of the others has only one, allowing Charnock to provide us with a cross-section of the attitudes of the inhabitants of her future world.

On a trip to the market Caleb upsets Ma Lexie and his mistrust hardens. He agrees to escape the enclave with Odette who has her own reasons for fleeing. They travel at night towards Wales along the Shropshire Union Canal but Caleb quickly gives Odette the slip when he notices blood under her fingernails. He finds relatively easy work on a vineyard and some time later is befriended by Jerome who helps him avoid an immigration raid. They travel together and at Bridge 108 on the Shropshire Union Canal Caleb is persuaded by Jerome to hand himself in to the authorities. His indentured life on the path towards full citizenhood is not simple, nor is that path guaranteed, but is an illustration of the destination towards which UK domestic policy has been heading these many years.

Pedant’s corner:- The surname Farquharson is said to be pronounced Farkuson (It isn’t; it’s pronounced Farkarson, with both the ‘r’s sounded,) snuck (sneaked,) sat (x 2, sitting, or, seated,) “in my corner of room” (of the room.) “None of them stay in the camp” (None of them stays,) whiskey (whisky.)

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