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When We Have Wings, Claire Corbett

This would have to be one of the most original and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. Exquisitely written and populated by characters about whom you care, the novel is a wonderful melange of genres. Encompassing science-fiction, crime and fantasy it is also a considered tale that deals with fascinating and all too real philosophical issues including the timeless one of just what it means to be human. Adding a delicate frisson to this is the role of science and surgery and just how far humans are prepared to go in order to reach for and extend the aesthetic, physical and psychological limitations of their body and the potential and actual consequences of this. Dilemmas we already face as plastic and cosmetic surgery and other bodily modifications as well as our obsession with aging dominate headlines and already create ┬ávery real class and economic divisions.

Set in an unspecified but, one imagines not too distant future, When We Have Wings explores a world where the new divide exists on vertical lines: up and down – of those who have the money and connections to undergo the surgery and comprehensive drug regime to get wings and those who don’t. Of those who literally live in the clouds or those who are forced to dwell on the ground and feel the gulf between them and this new angelic race grow.
At the centre of this ┬ápage-turning story is young Peri, nanny to a couple of wealthy and powerful fliers. When Peri kidnaps her charge, Hugo, she triggers a series of events that leads to more questions and an investigation into the secret world of fliers, led by the ‘ordinary’ PI Zeke, who has his own personal problems to deal with including whether or not to give permission for his son (who lives with his ex-wife, Lily) Thomas, to be given wings.
Thrust into the privileged and secretive world of fliers, Zeke finds out more than he bargained for and, as he works hard and fast to track Peri, the question of why she ran with Hugo soon overtakes the need to locate her.
Told as parallel narratives, Peri and Zeke’s stories offers amazing and beautifully told insights into a divided future where getting what you wish for can be a poisoned, if seductive, chalice. Ethics, morals, right, wrong, religion, politics, parenting, nurture, nature, biological recklessness, exploitation and responsibility are all explored in intelligent and evocative prose. Descriptions of flight are irresistible as is the power of nature, conjured by Corbett in what i can only describe as breath-taking word storms.
This is a sublime book that will appeal to such a broad readership. An absolutely fabulous read that I simultaneously found hard to put down but also didn’t want to end.

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