Body Tourists by Jane Rogers: ‘Death where is thy sting’

Cover imageI’m not one for dystopian fiction but Body Tourists caught my eye because of its author. I’ve enjoyed several of Jane Rogers’ novels, including her last one, Conrad and Eleanor, which neatly reversed gender roles in the story of a long marriage. Her new novel is set in a near future where scientists have developed a way of transferring the memories of the dead into the brains of fit young people.

In 2045, Gudrun is giving an account of her nephew’s research and its consequences, research funded by her from her private Caribbean island. Intellectually sharp but lacking in empathy, Luke’s more interested in science than wealth but Gudrun sees an opportunity for money to be made. The massive northern estates set up to house the unemployed – jobless thanks to the advent of bots – are stuffed with the impoverished. Most are drugged by virtual reality but there are young people looking for a way out, prepared to ‘volunteer’ for medical research for a hefty fee. All they need to do is give up their bodies for two weeks, a fortnight which they will spend unconscious. Ryan jumps at the chance, persuading his girlfriend to volunteer with him but while Paula’s body plays host to a woman who leaves her a grateful note, Ryan’s fails to return. Paula is appalled. Swallowing Luke’s explanation and gagged by a confidentiality agreement, she turns her back on what’s happened but soon Luke is asking for more volunteers and Paula needs the money. Eventually, tragedy strikes and Body Tourism is blown apart.

This is such a clever idea, depicting a world where death is the last frontier the rich have failed to overcome until Luke unveils his research to his avaricious aunt, safely ensconced in her tax haven. Rogers explores her theme from a variety of perspectives, narrating her novel through several different voices. Paula is the host lured by the promise of a better life but whose conscience is deeply troubled. Richard is the ageing rock star, eager to pay to show his doubting deceased father his success but getting more than he bargained for. Elsa, whose partner died in a terrorist attack, has the only positive experience in the single instance where the rich are not involved. It’s chillingly believable, even down to Gudrun’s cynical conclusion. I can’t say that I’m a convert to dystopian fiction but if, like me, you tend to shy away from it, this one’s well worth considering.

Sceptre: London 2019 9781529392951 240 pages Hardback

8 thoughts on “Body Tourists by Jane Rogers: ‘Death where is thy sting’”

  1. I’m intrigued enough by this one to give it a go even though, like you, I don’t gravitate towards dystopian stuff. It would be the sort of fiction the Wellcome Prize might recognize (though it’s on hiatus this year, alas.) I remember reading one previous Rogers novel, quite a while ago now.

  2. I had not heard of this author before but her works sounds very interesting and, as you say, a bit different from the ‘normal dystopia’ we see so much. Isn’t it a sorry state of affairs that such stories seem commonplace and all too real these days.

  3. I’m usually intrigued by the ideas in dystopians – I like to see where a writer’s mind can go. But I’m also more likely to hold off and wait for reviews. This one sounds like one for my list!

    1. I have to admit that I’m not so attracted to dystopia, more in search of light relief, but this is so well done. So easy to believe that someone might be working on an idea like this in the all too near future, too.

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