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JOSS SHELDON SPEAKS EXCLUSIVELY TO THE BAY NET

The controversial author has just released his fifth novel, Individutopia.

Joss Sheldon likes to tear up the rule book.

“Rules are there to be broken,” he says.

The author, who has been described as a radical, started his literary career writing a novel which rhymed throughout, portraying a conscientious objector as a hero and soldiers as cowards. In The Little Voice, he created an imaginary creature who lived in the protagonist’s brain. This was in an adult book! Now Sheldon is back with Individutopia, a dystopian novel that doesn’t feature any sort of big state or Big Brother.

“That’s been done before,” Sheldon explains. “And I don’t think I could have created a better statist dystopia than Orwell and Huxley managed in 1984 and Brave New World. But I did feel I could create something more relevant to the 21st century.

“Of course, we still have big states. We still have schools which mould us into shape, a judiciary which punishes us if our behaviour doesn’t conform, and armies which imposes our ideals on foreign lands. But we don’t have so many dictatorships. Communism has fallen in several countries, and interventionist Keynesian policies have given way to laissez-fair neoliberalism in the West. These days, it is the private sector which is all powerful, a corporatocracy rules the roost, and we are encouraged to police ourselves.”

This philosophy forms the bedrock of the novel.

In Individutopia, everything is owned by a few individuals. Everyone else must work hard to serve these oligarchs, and pay them what little money they have for everything they consume – spending far more than they earn, and struggling under an ever-increasing burden of debt.

“We’ve seen this trend over the last few decades. When my mother went to university (in the UK), she didn’t pay a penny, and even received a maintenance allowance to cover the cost of her food and accommodation. Nowadays students must take on tens of thousands of pounds of debt just to cover their fees.

“We used to be able to park our cars for free, now you need to pay. Libraries charge for some services. In some countries I’ve visited, you have to pay to visit national museums and national parks, or to drive along the motorways. There are even private beaches which you need to pay to enter! And I don’t think it’s going to stop. There’s a movement to end net neutrality – to make people pay to visit popular websites. The Tories are talking about introducing fees to visit your doctor.”

In Individutopia, this trend is taken to its logical end. Everything comes with a price. People have to pay to breathe clean air, in a world suffering from extreme pollution. They are charged for each step they take along roads and paths which have long since been privatised. Very few people can afford the fees charged to speak to another person.

Society has crumbled.

“The book was inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “There’s no such thing as society”. I don’t believe that quote was true at the time, but I do see a trend. People are drinking and playing computer games at home, rather than drinking in the pub and playing team sports in public. Younger generations can no longer afford to live in the areas they were raised, and are being forced to move away from their friends and family. We speak to our smart devices, rather than to other people. Society is breaking down and people, who are social animals, are suffering as a result. Mental illnesses are becoming epidemic.”

This sets up the tale.

The book’s main character, Renee, spends her life in a self-deluded haze. She believes hard work is virtuous, the world is meritocratic and her efforts will be rewarded. Encouraged by her smart devices, her only friends, she genuinely believes she will be able to repay her debt, buy her own home and retire. Until, that is, her gaseous supply of antidepressants is cut off and her eyes are opened to the reality of her situation.

Here begins the sort of tale more akin to an adventure novel than a work of political fiction. Renee battles her demons, has her doubts, continues on as before, and then repeats the process. Spiralling downwards, suffering from depression and anxiety, she grows bolder, more brazen, before finally breaking free.

What follows is an exhilarating ride, as the story ratchets through the gears. Just when it seems one thing will happen, something unexpected changes the course of the narrative. There are more twists and turns than in a piece of fusilli, but it all comes together, and makes sense, right up until the very last, tear-jerking line of the book.

Individutopia is as relevant as any dystopian novel, and a must-read for fans of the genre.

Get your hands on a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Chapters.


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