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Wastelander: Manda Benson

May 26, 2011

When you live in a rubbish tip and your favourite food is your mum’s mouldy soup, life in the city is strange and confusing

Lenny is a boy from a family of barbarians living in a landfill site, who finds himself lost in a strange, sterile world. Although the people he meets are only trying to help him, Lenny can’t fit in, so he must make the perilous journey back to the rubbish tip to be reunited with his people.

***

Wastelander has an extremely unattractive front cover with a strange Photoshop effect which doesn’t quite work. The writing is clean enough, with few technical errors; but it’s a bit on the dull side and quite a lot of it is unconvincing.

The main character lives on a landfill site and although there is quite a lot of detail dedicated to explaining how his people live, it’s not convincing. They are not sufficiently different to us; they don’t seem to have much of their own culture or language, and this lack of difference means that when Lenny accidentally leaves the landfill, the world he finds outside doesn’t feel terribly different to his landfill home. The descriptions of the strange new things he encounters have a coy, self-satisfied edge which made me feel as though I were being invited to laugh at Lenny rather than empathise with him; nothing is experienced through Lenny’s viewpoint, which again made it difficult for me to in empathise with him; and all the time I was reading this book I was thinking of Stig Of The Dump, which explores a similar premise so much more successfully.

In all, then, a flat read which misses much of the potential in an interesting premise. I read forty-seven out of two hundred and twenty pages and stopped reading because of the lack of writing flair, not because of my error-count.

If this writer wishes to improve she needs to think more of idiom and detail, get closer to her characters’ emotions, and make her characters believable, rather than cardboard cutouts who only seem to exist in order to move rather passively through her plot. And she needs to treat her main character with more respect, and not use him as a novelty to examine under a light and exclaim about: that, more than anything, put me off this book.

A little more research wouldn’t hurt either: my husband is a minerals surveyor and works with landfill sites, and much of the detail provided about Lenny’s life on the landfill simply did not ring true. I recognise that thanks to my husband I have an insight into the workings of landfills which perhaps most other readers would not enjoy(!); and that this book is fiction and so some artistic licence is only to be expected. But there’s a difference between artistic licence and getting things plain wrong, and that difference makes all the difference to a book.

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  1. John
    May 27, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Sounds a bit like Stig of the dump.

  2. Jane Smith
    May 27, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I already said that, John. Ha!

    (The difference is that Stig is atmospheric and full of tension and excitement, whereas this book isn’t. Such a shame.)

  3. May 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Jane, sorry you didn’t enjoy ‘Wastelander’. Thanks for taking the time to look at it and write the review and suggestions. 🙂

  4. Jane Smith
    June 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Manda, you’re welcome. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be more positive. Your gracious response is much appreciated: I wish other writers were more like you.

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