Baby X looks at a near future where a baby is growing in an artificial womb. It personalises the science by telling the story through the voice of three women – Alex, the lead researcher, Karen, the ‘mother’ of Baby X, and Dolly, an assistant in the lab. (Dolly – wasn’t that the name of the first cloned sheep?) I write ‘mother’ in quotes, because Baby X has been created with a donor egg, and issues of parenthood, of motherhood are raised by this book. To sum up what happens, Alex goes on the run with the new baby, and as the book unfolds we gradually discover what has driven her to take this desperate step.
I read Baby X all through in a day, and at first I wondered if it was going to be a little slow, but I was gripped within the first few chapters. My sister picked up the book and did the same. Smith tells a complex story in a clear manner, and succeeds in taking us back and forth in the time line, from conception to present day to a future investigation into the project where Dolly is being interviewed. There is a mystery to unravel, and one action that appears to be the crime, while in fact another crime has taken place that is exposed piece by piece as we read through the book.
As the book progresses, the lead character, Alex, becomes more and more involved in her project, and we begin to doubt the integrity of her narration and the veracity of her actions. Has she lost the plot and stolen the baby, or are her concerns for the safety of Baby X justified? A potential anti-hero emerges, but, as with all good books he isn’t quite what he seems, and of course that means other characters have more to them than first appears. I guess my only let-down in the book is the denouement of the real villain towards the end: without spoiling the plot I felt the characterization was a little heavy handed.
There is always a challenge in melding science and story: the science must underpin the story unobtrusively. I probably have a greater interest in the science and medical part of the story than most people, but I’d say that Smith has the balance right. She has created a gripping story, in a world that isn’t too far from our own; she addresses questions of what might happen if in vitro fertilization becomes in vitro gestation in a compelling and plausible manner.
About the Publisher:
Mother’s Milk Books is a small, family-run press, which aims to celebrate femininity and empathy through images and words, with a view to normalizing breastfeeding. Mother’s Milk Books receives no grant funding and the press survives purely through sales of books, cards and prints. The press was set up in 2011 and its first title Musings on Mothering, edited by Teika Bellamy, was published in September 2012. This charity anthology of art, poetry and prose about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding continues to raise funds for La Leche League GB, a breastfeeding support charity.
Review by Antonia Chitty
Antonia Chitty is an author of 20 nonfiction books and writes at www.38to39.wordpress.com