Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable: 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 birth mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.
Sweeping from an all-too-real modern world 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.
All it takes is one dirty surface. One scratch or sneeze. We aren’t visitors anymore, we are targets. Targets for contagion.
And on that happy note, welcome to my review of The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith! Huge thanks to Orenda Books for the proof copy and to Anne Cater for the tour invite.
I was kindly gifted The Waiting Rooms months ago and I was dead chuffed! A dystopian thriller is so up my street it’s practically in my back garden and The Waiting Rooms was one of my most anticipated 2020 reads. And then COVID-19 happened. While the virus was still in Asia I had a craving for dystopian books but I didn’t get the chance to pick this one up, and then when I did have time, my country went in lockdown and I couldn’t bear the thought of reading anything that reminded me even remotely of what was happening in real life. I really had to give myself some time (and a few pep talks) to get me to pick it up.
Nevertheless, I was caught up in the story very quickly, and I managed to forget everything around me and focus on the lives and issues of the characters instead of my own. Although I have to admit there were some bits that were uncomfortably close to my situation mid-May when I was reading this…
We never used to be afraid of coughs. We barely noticed them. That was part of the problem.
I suspect Eve Smith must be something of a clairvoyant, or she has a firm grasp on the human psyche at the very least. She nails the actions and reactions of people in a health situation they’re not accustomed to and certain passages hit home in a way they might not have in the pre-coronavirus world.
He looks at me like a confused child, mouth agape. People just don’t get it, no matter how many times they’re told. It’s as if they think we’re making it up.
The Waiting Rooms has three storylines: before the Crisis, during and after, and three POVs: Mary, Lily and Kate.
The before chapters are basically set in the world as we know it. They take us to a South Africa divided by apartheid where Mary discovers tuberculosis is a huge problem.
The Crisis and post-Crisis chapters are where it gets speculative, the point where Eve Smith has taken the actual medical knowledge a step or two further in time: many viruses are drug-resistant, and she shows us what might happen if we don’t change our ways. The post-Crisis chapters are set in a near-future Britain where Kate is a nurse and Lily is in a care home and on the brink of turning 70, which is a big deal because all septuagenarians are cut off from drugs, and the smallest injury could be lethal.
There is a link between these women, of course there is, you don’t need to be told that, but I’ll let you to discover just how they are linked. I admit I predicted it very early on but that didn’t rain on my parade at all. This is not a novel that sets out to shock the reader with its twists and turns (although there are those too, and there was one I’d completely missed and left me gasping at its reveal), this is a novel trying to shake its audience awake with one simple truth: if we keep this up, COVID-19 may be the least of our worries. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics may very well land us in a situation that is far worse.
The Waiting Rooms is an important book, but do note that it’s also highly entertaining. It comprises a lot of information, Eve has clearly done her research, but it’s not an infomercial or a medical journal or whatever. I cared so much about these women and I read those last chapters with my heart in my throat. Harrowing but beautiful, poignant but thrilling, I loved this book so much and I enjoyed it way more than I ever thought I could in the current situation.
The combination of adventure and drama and dystopian thriller and well, let’s call it medical horror, makes for a heady mix and an absolutely compelling read. I loved Eve’s writing, I’d never guess The Waiting Rooms was a debut if I hadn’t known it in advance, and I can’t wait to read more. Highly recommended!