Obey little, bake much: The Choice

The Choice
© 2019 Claire Ward
400 pages

There’s always a choice.

“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette supposedly said of the people too poor to buy bread, and the words inspired revolution. The Choice throws that on its head, and makes it rallying cry — LET US EAT CAKE! Set in a dystopian Britain where an insufferably invasive and cloyingly matronizing government headed by Mother Mason has turned everyday life into a misery. The Choice examines how the choices that individuals make enable tyranny — both at the polls and in their lives, as rebellion can begin from the smallest of personal stands. It is a strange mix of Betty Crocker meets 1984, where technocratic control, a saccharine tyrant in pearls, and intense social pressure create an environment depressingly familiar. A most unusual dytstopian novel (it has an award from Good Housekeeping), The Choice strikes a chord.

Set in Britain, the book picks up seven years into the reign of Mother Mason, who was elected on a Health and Decency platform. The circumstances of her rise to power are a little murky, but she’s a literal Health Nazi: sugar and alcohol are verboten, and people who skip leg day at the gym are abducted at the grocery store and taken away. At that grocery store, certain articles like butter are strictly rationed, and to gain access requires submitting to a weigh-in, where agents of the state consider weight and the person’s fitbit activity before permitting them their pat or two. The state is incredibly, obnoxiously intrusive, using deliverymen to spy on people’s homes looking for smuggled-in sugar, constantly pushing citizens to narc on errant behavior, and — above all — forever hectoring, nagging, advising. People are infantalized and treated like toddlers, especially as the book wears on and the main character becomes a rebellious baker.

The Choice has an unusual protagonist in Olivia Prichard, who in another life was an accomplished baker, cake artisan, and small business owner but who now malingers as a frustrated housewife, with no outlet for her creative energy. I appreciate the perspective, though, because Olivia’s plight demonstrates how tyranny and government stupidity affects the common man and woman down to the household level; it also raises the stakes, since unlike Winston Smith Olivia has children who the state can threaten to seize from her if she doesn’t comply. Raising money to smash the state — “Cut the Apron Strings” — through a bake sale is an amusing mix, seditious and wholesome at the same time. Although some aspects of the worldbuilding are unrealistic (the economy of Britain is entirely too healthy given the measures in place ), I like Ward’s twist.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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7 Responses to Obey little, bake much: The Choice

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    LOL – Sounds bizarre… but somehow believable….. [grin] I do know that there’s a proportion of the population going on endlessly about the ‘Nanny State’… But then again they’re usually Tory fascists so….. [rotflmao] REALLY funny that this got a Good Housekeeping Award. [grin]

    • They should go on, especially in the UK and Australia. Whatever happened to Brits telling the government to sod off? :p

      • Cyberkitten says:

        Oh, the VAST majority LOVE our Nanny State and wouldn’t have it any other way. I was born into it, lived my whole life in it and will die in it quite happily. Cradle to Grave care is great! The State helped me with my education post-16, the State housed my family for decades, the State helped me during a brief period of unemployment, the State helped me get a job that lasted over 30+ years, the State provided healthcare for me (and everyone I know) and the State will pay me a pension in the next few years that I can live on. All in all its pretty sweet……. We still tell the government to sod off from time to time (plus more colourful expletives). Mostly we just laugh at them or at least politely snigger when they twist themselves in knots trying to explain their bad behaviour – then vote a new crowd in.

      • He had won the final battle…he loved Big Brother. 😉

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    LOL…. Well, I think I’d much rather live in a Welfare State than a Warfare State…….. [grin] I haven’t read/reviewed much on the subject as its a bit like fish reading books on water – if they could read, actually hold books or if books could be read under water. Growing up in this ‘system’ and seeing its real benefits you kind of take it as normal, rational and a no-brainer. Seeing how other cultures don’t have a Welfare State seems odd, irrational and honestly bemusing. But I do have a few in a mini-stack that I’ll get around to at some point so that you can see what I mean.

    • Some people don’t like being taken care of, and we certainly don’t like some g-man’s grubby little fingers in our pockets to pay for his feckless existence and to give Saudi princes F-15s to murder their neighbors with. I used to be far, far more sympathetic to the welfare state, but that was before encountering Gandhi and the anarchists and thinking about the implications of accepting non-coercion as a default.

      • Cyberkitten says:

        Well, as a socialist I think its a great idea and think we should have more of it (the Welfare State that is rather than enabling Saudi to bomb people!!). Thatcher started the ball rolling pruning back some of the State controls and privatising quite a few things, some of which I think should go back into Public ownership. There are some things that should never be in Private hands (or at least not *mostly* in Private hands) – Schools, Hospitals, Prisons, the Electric grid, the provision of things like water, roads….. and government should be involved, sometimes heavily, in regulating things it does not actually control…. But I know that we **fundamentally** disagree on this sort of thing!

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