Reviewed by Judi Jagger
When We Have Wings is a debut novel of originality and powerful, beautiful writing. It took me longer than usual to finish because I didn’t want it to finish, and, yes, it’s quite long.
Told in two voices; the first is the jaded first person of Zeke, in the great tradition of the noir ex-cop turned detective. He lives in a dystopian not-too-far-in-the future City (Sydney?) where the rich and powerful have access to Flight through expensive medical manipulation that gives them custom wings. They live in extraordinary constructions high above the rest of the overcrowded city. Who are the non-fliers? The five Rs: ‘Retarded, Retired, Religious, Rationed and Regional. In other words anyone too poor, or too old or too disabled for Flight.‘ The City is multicultural (loved that Murni’s Warung – hello Ubud – had its moment) and inaccessible to anyone from RaRA-land (Remote and Regional Areas) and without an almost impossible-to-obtain permit. Zeke’s world includes Taj, his amazing car (even more cynical than Zeke – yes, it is a true ‘smart car’ and it talks) and the underbelly of the city. It’s also the world of the Perpetual Pup (forever cute) and the modified, miniaturised pet lion. Zeke’s case concerns Peri, nanny of one of the most powerful of the privileged, Peter Chesshyre, who has vanished with Chesshyre’s child Hugo.
The other voice is third person, but is Peri’s point of view. The complex plot is impossible to summarise but Claire Corbett gives us a bold novel that explores, among other things, genetic modification, trafficking, surrogacy, child rights, ethics and social justice woven with religious allusion and imagery. The writing is breathtakingly beautiful, particularly when we too become Fliers and begin to understand the intoxication that makes Flight so desirable. Corbett has researched meteorology and the science of flight to give her descriptions great authenticity.
We finish this thought-provoking book wondering what the future holds for our children. There is no question that technology is taking us to a point when we will have wings, metaphorical wings that can substitute for any of the modifications we are already scientifically capable of. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s ‘when’ we have wings. Read it.
When We Have Wings, by Claire Corbett
Allen & Unwin, 2011