The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (another book review – all right it’s an echo).

Celebrated scientist Evelyn Caldwell has cracked the secret of creating human clones. This could be the start of a high-concept SF novel involving an imperial clone army but, in fact, takes a far more interesting and darkly humorous. It shares some of the concepts of Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’, the clones being created as a service for rich clients, and the stark brutality and humour of ‘Killing Eve’ (the TV series; I haven’t read the books).

Right at the beginning of the book we discover that Evelyn’s husband Nathan has left her for another woman, a clone of herself that he has secretly created. This version of Evelyn, who bears the name Martine, is docile and compliant, the perfect housewife and companion in stark contrast to the career-focused Evelyn. Watching Martine through Evelyn’s eyes and feeling her contempt for this subservient version of herself, we begin to see not only her single-mindedness and drive, but also the callousness she has developed in her work on the ‘subjects’ in her lab which are, to all intents and purposes, exactly the same as any other human.

The book is sprinkled with flashbacks to flesh out Evelyn’s character and relationships and explain how she thinks and feels, but these are done expertly in bite-size chunks. They don’t interrupt the flow of the narrative but add depth to the tale as it develops through a series of crises.

Shockingly brilliant or maybe brilliantly shocking, the book barely allowed sufficient time for me to get my head around the ramifications of what had happened before the next twist was revealed. The tension and the threat of discovery are constant and the ethical dilemmas are abundant. The way that Martine’s programmed personality interacts with Evelyn’s forcefulness is a constantly evolving masterpiece of an emotional rollercoaster.

There are very few other characters in the book, mostly as a result of Evelyn’s reserved personality and also due to the isolated nature of her research with the squeamishness that clients and lab colleagues view the conditioning of adult clones and the euthanasia of failed specimens. Evelyn’s ex-husband, her late father and estranged mother feature in flashback. Her only friend makes a very brief appearance and then there is her research assistant, the seemingly solid, reliable Seyed.

This limited cast makes the whole story more claustrophobic. There is nowhere to go, nobody else to turn to in Evelyn’s attempts to extricate herself from the questionable actions and consequences that she finds herself trapped in. Her past comes back to haunt her as she tries to prove that is nothing like her mother and definitely nothing like her father. She is determined to prove that the flaws that caused Nathan to seek a replacement version of her are in fact strengths, that Nathan was the flawed half of their marriage.

This book is probably one of the most emotionally intricate novels I’ve read, a real tour-de-force of insights, relationships and introspection. As Evelyn attempts to solve the complex problems she’s ended up in and continually justifies her course of action, it’s often difficult to know whether to cheer her on or despise her. This is, altogether, a powerful and startlingly original book.

Gareth D Jones

February 2021

(pub: TOR. 254 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $24.99 (US), $33.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-17466-6)

check out websites: www.tor.com

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