The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

I Sang In My Chains Like The Sea (Review: Matched; Ally Condie)

Ally Condie
Razorbill 2010

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one... until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I was lucky enough to read Matched several months ago, but totally unable to review it at the time. I really had no idea how to write about it and decided to mull it over. After months of mulling, I'm still unsure if I can do it justice here, suffice to say that it more than lives up to the phenomenal buzz that has risen up around it.

The premise of Matched is admirable in its simplicity. In a society where all are Matched with their perfect mate, Cassia's match seems to have gone slightly wrong with two faces appearing (albeit one only briefly) where there should only be one. Cassia as a character is entirely believable. From her fluttery excitement at her Matching banquet, to her tentative pleasure on learning that best friend Xander is her match, my feelings towards her were ones of warmth and empathy. Initially, Cassia is accepting of the Society that controls her world even while not always entirely at ease (illustrated beautifully in the scenes concerning her grandfather). After the confusion with her Match, she starts to question the way that her life is run and begins to rail against the Society, without entirely understanding what she is railing against, she merely follows an instinct that life could be different. Cassia is intelligent in a very logical way and this combined with her powerful intuition that all is not right leads to a confusion that is compelling to read.

Cassia is aided in no small measure by the two conflicting boys in her life. As her best friend, Xander is an interesting character. He so easily could have been relegated to the side-lines, merely watching as she struggles between her Match with him and a freedom that she can only just sense. However, he is a multi-faceted character and often acted in a way that surprised me. While there is no doubt that he cares for Cassia very much, I was never entirely sure of his motivation and this made him increasingly fascinating.

Ky, on the other hand, is easier to read. Troubled by a mysterious, yet obviously traumatic past he is a gentle character, used to blending into the background. Deeply principled and with a strong awareness of what is right and wrong, he could have been written as an all out rebel and Angry Young Man, yet he's not. Ky is a quiet boy, fighting his own quiet fight and in his own quiet way sticking it to The Man. The images of him writing with a stick in the dirt have returned again and again to my mind – a fine example of never giving up on what you believe to be right. The friendship that grows between him and Cassia is one of hushed words, shared in briefly snatched and muted moments. It is also, at times, achingly romantic.

The Society in which all three characters live has clearly been born of a world perhaps not that different to our own, riddled with death, famine, disease and hopelessness. While the Society has managed to eradicate all of these, they have taken it a step further, controlling citizens in order to never risk a return to a lesser society and the challenges that come with it. In doing so, they have also eradicated much of what is vital to our humanity with emotions, relationships and creativity severely restricted. It is a dystopian vision that rivals those presented in 1984 and Brave New World and it is entirely chilling.

While all of the above is impressive Matched, more than anything else, is a paean to words. Running throughout the book is the poetry of Dylan Thomas, my all time favourite poet and certainly the one who taught me how transportive the power of words can be. To place classic poetry such as Thomas's in a book is brave, to use it as an integral part of the plot is genius and to have the writing skill to blend it seamlessly together with your own words speaks of a prodigious talent. Condie's book is a contradiction, her plot at once intricate and simple, her writing sparse yet intimate – it should all be terribly incongruous but instead is a work of understated mastery. As the first in a series it leaves plenty of questions unanswered and the ending is left hauntingly open for the next installment. I have no doubt that Ally Condie's series will continue to stand head and shoulders above others in its field. I urge you to read it as soon as you can. Absolutely excellent.

Matched is out on 2nd December in the UK and 30th November in the US. Thank you to Puffin for sending me a copy of this book to review.  


Lauren said…
I totally agree with what you've said about this one. Especially the use of Thomas's poetry; it completely works, and it really made me appreciate the impact that one person's words can have on the world. I love how you've described Condie's writing too. I was expecting to love this one for its story and setting, but I also ended up loving it for its heart.
Lynsey Newton said…
EXCELLENT review Sya, so glad you loved this book as much as I do!
I'd say you did justice to this review and then some more. I can't tell you how excited I am about this book - I have yet to see a negative review for this one and so far haven't encountered any at all. And Dylan Thomas poetry? Well, now I just want to read this book even more. Excellently written, well thought-out review Sya! Gosh, you write the most fabulous reviews ever.
Splendibird said…
Tammy, your comments are always so lovely and make me blush! It really is a fabulous book and the Dylan Thomas poetry is just the icing on an already delicious cake.
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