Genesis, Bernard Beckett
Genesis Book blurb
“Go forward in time…
Now we are alone. Outsiders can no longer be trusted and are shot on sight. Here in the new Republic the people serve the State and the Philosophers who guide it. Until one man, Adam Forde puts himself at grave risk, and changes everything.
We witness a young Academy candidate being put through a gruelling examination. Her specialty: the life of Adam Forde. What secrets has she discovered and what is her own surprising link to Adam?
The story of an extraordinary society that makes the final leap.
Outstanding and original, BERNARD BECKETT’s dramatic narrative turns the sci-fi reading experience on its head. A captivating and unsettling thriller.”
Genesis First Page
“Anax moved down the long corridor. The only sound was the gentle hiss of the air filter overhead. The lights were down low, as demanded by the new regulations. She remembered brighter days, but never spoke of them. It was one of the Great Mistakes, thinking of brightness as a quality of the past.
Anax reached the end of the corridor and turned left. She checked the time. They would be watching her approach, or so it was rumoured. The door slid open, quiet and smooth, like everything in The Academy zone.
The panel was made up of three Examiners, just as the regulations had promised. It was a great relief. Details of the examination were kept secret, and amongst the candidates rumours swirled. ‘Imagination is the bastard child of time and ignorance,’ her tutor Pericles liked to say, always adding ‘not that I have anything against bastards.’ Anax loved her tutor. She would not let him down. The door closed behind her.”
Themes in the novel
Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Genesis
There are so many avenues of discussion possible in this novel!
The NARRATIVE STRUCTURE is both clever and intricately connected to how we experience the novel. Consider:
- There are two stories being told; Adam’s and Anaxamander’s. The one precedes the other in time, but they are told in parallel; Why? How does this shape the reader’s experience?
- There is a third-person narrator, but much of the novel is presented as dialogue, without comment or qualification by this narrator. Why? How does this shape the reader’s experience?
- Why have Anaxamander tell Adam’s story?
- How could this novel have been told differently? What if it were told by Pericles, or another Examiner, for example? Would you get the same story?
- What if the story were begun or ended in a different way – in a different place in the narrative? ie if events were told in a different order?
- More than a premise for philosophical debate, the examination room becomes a trap from which the protagonist does not escape. Do we relate to her powerlessness? Yes… what effect does this empathy have on our reading of her story?!
I particularly love Beckett’s use of METAPHOR. For example:
- Beckett describes democracy as “a poor export” on p10. The novel as a whole explores the notion of the ‘ideal society’ described in Plato’s Republic. What aspects of ‘export’ is he drawing on to attach new understanding to ‘democracy’ through metaphor? Why does this discussion relate to a novel about the perfect society? How is Genesis a commentary on current political systems?
- Metaphor is used to make words, language, and story powerful in the novel. The metaphors are deliberately vital and agentive – words as weapons, friends, etc. eg.1 “…she had to think her way to the words, searching for them in the way one searches for a friend in a crowd, panic never more than a moment away.” eg.2 “‘It is not just a story.’ Adam’s mouth barely opened. He strained the words through bared teeth, forced them out into the world.” Make a list of some of the metaphors used to describe language, words, story, truth, rumour, etc. What qualities do these metaphors assign to language, words, story, truth, rumour, etc? What impact does this have on the reader?
- Many kinds of narrative are included: rumour (p7), superstition (p11), mottos, (p15), records (p19), transcripts (23), myths (p18), conspiracy theories (p49; 130), oral examinations, history (p37; 84), doctored data (p45), public trials (p46), slogans (p47), computer programs (p48), charters (p50), fabricated evidence (p51), journal entries (p54), propaganda (p69), heresies (p99), (as well as perhaps, philosophical discussions of consciousness, truth, and knowledge), etc. In fact the book refers continually to story – especially to the power of story. What is being said about the power of story/narrative/communication? (Beckett’s August begs a similar analysis) Consider: “…although the tale she was telling was a stale one, left too long, examined too often, Anax found herself wrapping it in new words, growing in confidence with every layer.”
There are also numerous THEMES presented.
A second or third reading reveals that the reader of this text is expected to be a CRITICAL READER who reads this text in a wider context! For example:
- The media are attached to both fear and story in this novel (“The more the media peddled fear, the more the people lost the ability to believe in one another. For every new ill that befell the people, the media created an explanation, and the explanation always had a face, and a name. In time the people came to fear even their closest neighbours.”). What role do the media play in peddling stories? How do the stories they tell gain power? What does this say about critical literacy?
- One of the other really interesting things about this novel is the way it considers the ‘OTHER‘. On p15, Anaxamander describes “the five great threats to order. Impurity of Breeding, Impurity of Thought, Indulgence of the Individual, Commerce, and The Outsider.” What ideas about ‘outsiders’ (or those different to us) are explored in the novel? How?
- As a text, the novel is confined to the examination room. In itself, this setting provides us with a well-established power ‘strucutre’. In such a setting it is easy for the reader to identify with Anaxamander (to identify with the familiarly powerless position of the student being examined). What effect on our reading does empathy with the protagonist have? Are we more or less critical as a result?
- Anaximander states: “We applied the Socratic method to our own interpretations, challenging one another, teasing out our understanding. I have found what I have found by first doubting it.” Has she really? What is the Socratic method? What is the irony of the narrator including this statement of the protagonist’s (and are we expected to notice it on a first reading)? What relevance does such a comment have to the reader’s experience of this novel? What role does ‘doubt’ play in reading? What of the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief? Are we invited to suspend our disbelief when we read History?
- Genesis highlights the subjective fragility of our relationship to HISTORY. We see how easy it is for the Philosophers to present a false version of events to Anaxamander and her society in order to keep them ‘happy.’ What of our history? What stories do we value as a nation? Why? What purpose do they serve?
- For other ideas see individual blogs on Genesis or Bernard Beckett (there’ll be more in this last category for obvious reasons, so go there if you want everything I have to say on the topic!).
Texts that invite comparison
Robert Cormier’s I am the Cheese (in terms of invoking Big Brother conspiracies and using narrative structure to undermine the reader’s sense of omniscience)
Gemma Malley’s The Declaration (in terms of exploring the future of science as it affects our societies, as well as notions of social idealism and rebellion)
Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go (in terms of the creation of a new society in (violent) opposition to another – and how stories support such Othering and violence. The two stories are written so differently, it becomes interesting to look at how they are the same/how they are different)
Mary E Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (in terms of what makes us human – what makes us who we are and gives us an identity; also, in terms of what effect technology/science could have on our sense of identity)
Perhaps Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? (in terms of each text’s interaction with Plato’s Republic). Consider these references: Provencal, Vernon (1998) ‘Byzantine in the Extreme’: Plato’s Republic in The Handmaid’s Tale. Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly, (19:1), 1998 Fall, 53-76. AND George E Connor (2004) ‘Spelunking with Ray Bradbury: The Allegory of the Cave in Fahrenheit 451’ Extrapolation; Winter 204; 45, 4: 408+ Actually, while we’re on the topic, these caught my eye for the same reason: Roberts, Jennifer Tolbert; Saxonhouse, Arlene W. (rejoinder) ‘Myths of Democracy and Gender in Plato’s ‘Republic’: A Reply to Arlene ‘ Thamyris: Mythmaking from Past to Present, (2:2), 1995 Autumn, 259-76 AND Cornell, Christine; Malcolmson, Patrick ‘Plato’s Republic and the Teachable Moment’ Inventio: Creative Thinking About Learning and Teaching, (6:1), 2004 Spring, [no pagination] (Electronic publication.). AND Fincham, Gail ‘Heart of Darkness and Plato’s Republic: A Reverse Parable’ Epoque Conradienne, (29), 2003, 95-109.
Just so you know, I don’t relate things in this way, but others do, including younger readers, so it may be of interest… in May 2009, Storylines put these titles together for those who are interested in fiction that wonders about science:
– Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, 2008), ISBN 9780765319852
– The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer (Simon & Schuster, 2004)
– The Christopher Killer, Alane Ferguson (Viking / Sleuth, 2006)
– Bodies and Soul, David Hill (Scholastic, 2005)
– Unwind, Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster, 2007)
– Box, Penelope Todd (Longacre Press, 2005)
– Extras, Scott Westerfield (Simon Pulse, 2007)
– Planetes Volume 1, Makoto Yukimura (Tokyopop, 2003) (manga, ISBN 1591822629)
… AND for those interested in technology gone bad:
– Juno of Taris, Fleur Beale (Random House NZ, 2008)
– Eva, Peter Dickinson (Macmillan, 1988; 2001)
– Salt, Maurice Gee (Penguin, 2007)
– Turnabout, Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster, 2000)
– Because We Were the Travellers, Jack Lasenby (Longacre Press, 1997)
– The Declaration, Gemma Malley (Bloomsbury, 2008)
– The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E Pearson (Allen & Unwin, 2009)
– Mortal Engines [Hungry City Chronicles, Book 1], Philip Reeve (Scholastic, 2001)
… AND for those interested in Steampunk (what? yes well, apparently, “Steampunk is a subgenre of science fictin, set in a world where steam power is still widely used – mostly the Victorian era – often with technology ahead of its time, or alternative technological paths to our world. Although the genre came into prominence in the 1980s, early examples inclue The Time Machine by HG Wells and Jules Verne’s Work.“):
– Fullmetal Alchemist series by Hiromu Arakawa [manga]
– Airman, Eoin Colfer (Penguin, 2007)
– Airborn, Kennerh Oppel (hachette, 2005)
– His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman
– Larklight, Philip Reeve, illus. David Wyatt (Bloomsbury, 2007) [note; for 9+]
– The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle, Catherine Webb (Little, Brown, 2007)
Also, check out the S-Collection blog on dystopian fiction…
Also, just thinking about TWISTINESS:
An aside, really, but the twistiness of the narrative is very appealing and puts me in mind of Robert Cormier and JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye….
How to use this blog
Mindmaps help me think critically. They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’ This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.
- There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
- You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
- Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
- I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
- I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
- These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
- I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please add them!
Beckett’s Genesis: a History
Winner of the NZ Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults – Young Adult Fiction Category 2007;
CLFNZ Notable Books List 2007;
Nominated for the IBBY Honour List 2008;
Shortlisted for the Silver Inky – 2008 Inky Awards (Australia’s Teen Choice Book Awards);
Longlisted for The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2009;
Winner of the Prix Sorcières 2010.
Originally classed as ‘Young Adult Fiction’ and published by Longacre Press, Genesis has since been published in twenty different countries – and sold as ‘adult’ fiction in some. Longacre Press is now owned by Random House NZ.
Bibliography of secondary literature:
- Giffney, Sarah. (2011) ‘The impossibilities of fiction: narrative power in Bernard Beckett’s ‘Genesis’.’ English in Aotearoa, Jul 2011, Issue 74, p64-70 [ISSN: 0113-7867, published Wellington [N.Z.] : New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English]
- Anna Jackson, Geoffrey Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer, and Kathryn Walls A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction (Victoria University Press: Wellington, 2011). This work is arranged thematically, so references are scattered throughout.
- Genesis Teachers’ Resource Kit by Text Publishing (freely available download)
- Genesis Reading Group Notes (freely available download)
- Longacre Press Teachers’ Resource Kit (freely available download)
- I believe there is also an Artemis analysis, though I haven’t yet seen it.
- There are also a number of interviews and reviews around the place, but little academic research has been applied to Beckett’s work as yet (2 April 2011).
Refer earlier blog: “Introducing Bernard Beckett”
 Back cover Bernard Beckett (2006) Genesis. Longacre Press: Dunedin
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