Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson

One flaw in the mostly flawless Divided Kingdom came at the very end. I felt like Rupert Thomson left me hanging with my palm in the air trying to get the high five. This hypnotizing, creepily dystopian novel captures your attention from the first chapter. Taking the tradition of what-might-happen-novels a step in what seems at first like a silly direction, Thomson imagines the UK divided into 4 quarters, each corresponding to one of the medieval humors—the Red Quarter for the sanguine, Blue Quarter for the phlegmatic, Yellow Quarter for the violent cholerics, and Green Quarter for the melancholics. It sounds far-fetched at first, but gets terrifyingly more realistic as the novel speeds forward.
Thomson’s writing is rich and vivid in detail. I would say that his descriptions help heighten the creepy sense you get when you read this book. In the beginning we meet Matthew Micklewright as he is torn from his family, who are classified as melancholics, during the “Rearrangement”. He is brought to a boarding school where is he is taught the rationale behind the changes. Matthew is told he is one of the sanguines, considered the best of the humours and given a new name, Thomas Parry. Eventually they send him to his new family in the Red Quarter, where he is groomed for a high ranking position later on in the book. The part of the book dealing with his childhood after the “Rearrangement” gives the novel its 1984 feel. Thomas is told before being sent to his new family that “if you should see any behaviour which doesn’t fit in with your notion of the sanguine disposition, it’s your duty—your duty—to report is to the authorities.” And after a year in his new household, the authorities summon Thomas to an office to answer questions about his new family’s behavior. It helps give a paranoid air to the book.
Eventually Thomas is given a high powered job in the government which is carefully concealed to the public, in which he helps transfer people to the other quarters. This is where the momentum picks up. In a surprise move, Thomas is sent to a conference in the Blue Quarter. There he visits a mysterious club called “The Bathysphere” whose interior sounds like something out of the movie ‘Strange Days‘. Memories of his previous life and happier times are awakened. He uses the confusion caused by a terrorist’s bomb while in the Yellow Quarter to make his escape. The rest of the book follows his adventures as he passes through various places—some are down right creepy, too. Throughout this part, you wonder what the finishing point will be as after a while, Thomas seems to move with urgency but without purpose.
I am still not sure if I can decipher Thomson’s message. Usually when I put down a book I just finished I run over to the shelves to pick a new read (yes, I run). With Divided Kingdom I sat there for a while thinking about all the possible messages in the book. Thinking about how similar and dissimilar DK‘s world is from ours. Thinking how its not so farfetched for a group of well-minded people change a society for the “better” with disastrous results. This book definitely made me stop and think, which is what a good book should do in my opinion. If I used a rating system, I would give it 5 stars.

2 thoughts on “Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson

  1. V-bunny

    Wow, you always write such great reviews. I definitely wanna read this now. Add it to the bottom of my mile-long reading list (I wish I could read as fast as you but we’ve had this discussion before).


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