The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith #BookReview #BlogTour

Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’ … hospitals where no one ever gets well.
Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.
Sweeping from an all-too-real modern Britain to a pre-crisis South Africa, The Waiting Rooms is epic in scope, richly populated with unforgettable characters, and a tense, haunting vision of a future that is only a few mutations away.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Waiting Rooms today, many thanks to Eve Smith, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

The Waiting Rooms was written before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and if read in more normal times, it would have been an unsettling enough premise. Now however, with much of the book familiar to our new daily routines, it's terrifying.
In the current climate it's perhaps too easy to forget that the health of the global population isn't just threatened by one particular virus and experts have long warned of the dangers of drug resistance. In The Waiting Rooms, the worst happened after decades of antibiotic over-use - in medicine and farming. What became known as the Crisis, when a deadly resistant strain of TB devastated the world's population, has led to a new normal and it is chillingly plausible. To mitigate the risk of further drug resistance, there are strict laws regarding infection control and once a person reaches the age of seventy, they are no longer allowed new antibiotics. Life expectancy has fallen dramatically as even the smallest infection can kill and the passing of years is marked with increasing dread.
The narrative switches between events twenty years after the Crisis and the two decades leading up to it, following Kate, a nurse who works in end-of-life care, Lily a woman in a care home who is nearing her seventieth birthday and Mary, a young botanist in pre-Crisis South Africa. Kate is old enough to remember what life was like before and is torn between being over-protective of her teenage daughter, Sasha and mourning the regimented, sterile existence that young people are now raised in, comparing it with the freedom of her own youth. Her job is soul-destroying yet she approaches it with compassion and empathy, even in the face of anger and resentment by a public who blame people like her for decisions made by the government. The irate protesters who may once have gathered outside abortion clinics now group outside hospitals for the elderly and their understandable, though misplaced ire can turn violent. It's a bleak existence where even something as seemingly normal as taking a trip to a shopping mall or going out for a meal means donning face masks (something which will particularly resonate at present), sterilising cutlery and worse, fearing insidious terrorist attacks by groups who wilfully spread infections in public spaces.
The chapters written by Lily are heartbreaking as she ticks off the days until her birthday knowing what it means, constantly reminded of how precarious life has become as her fellow residents succumb to various infections that would once have been little more than an inconvenience. However, it's also clear that Lily is still tormented by her past and she becomes increasingly convinced that somebody is targeting her because of what she did back then. The chapters following Mary in South Africa are tinged with foreboding as her discussions about TB and drug resistance are obviously devastatingly prescient. There's a moment later in the novel where a scene from The English Patient is recalled which I found especially striking because I'd already been reminded of that film in parts of Mary's storyline as she too has a passionate but ultimately doomed love story.
Although it's quickly obvious how the three strands of the novel are connected, there are still some surprises and as well as being a dark look at an all-too believable future, The Waiting Rooms is also a nerve-wracking thriller and is genuinely shocking at some points. It's perhaps wrong to describe the book as enjoyable, it's too uncomfortably relevant for that but it is brilliantly compelling, perceptive and poignant. The Waiting Rooms is an important story for our times, tackling topics like drug resistance, euthanasia and ageism with empathetic insight. It might not be the easiest of subject matters right now but there are times when it's vital to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and this is definitely one of those occasions; I urge you to read it.

The Waiting Rooms is published by Orenda Books, it is available now in ebook and will be out in paperback on 9th July 2020. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Eve Smith writes speculative fiction, mainly about the things that scare her. She attributes her love of all things dark and dystopian to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. In this world of questionable facts, stats and news, she believes storytelling is more important than ever to engage people in real life issues.

Set twenty years after an antibiotic crisis, her debut novel The Waiting Rooms was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended for The Brighton Prize.

When she’s not writing she’s romping across fields after her dog, trying to organise herself and her family or off exploring somewhere new.