The Facility by Simon Lelic


Mantle, 2011.

The novel opens with a highly unpleasant interrogation of a man called Arthur. Two other men yell obscenities at him in an attempt to get him to admit something, Arthur is not sure what. Eventually, Arthur is forced to drink some coffee and falls into a stupor. He is bound and taken, along with other prisoners, to a secure institution, the “Facility” of the title.

If I were to reveal more, I might be spoiling the book for you, so I won’t say why people are being kept in this place. I can say, however, that Arthur believes he is there by mistake, and so does his wife Julia, who enlists the help of hapless journalist Tom to promote Arthur’s cause. Julia, an American and the most interesting character in the book, is determined to expose the recent UK Security Act which gives the authorities the right to imprison individuals indefinitely, for no stated reason. She is armed by proof – a surveillance video of Arthur’s abduction, which otherwise would have been denied by the authorities (yes, it is that kind of book!). Tom, led by his hormones, begins to investigate and is gradually convinced by Julia’s case.

Interleaved with this quest is an account of Arthur and his fellow-inmates, as they come to realise the function of the Facility and what they are doing there. The prison chief, Henry Graves, is content at first to run a tight ship at the behest of a typically unpleasant government minister, but the arrival of a rival commander, with a completely different agenda, throws him somewhat more than out of sorts and into a rather unconvincingly described change of course.

The Facility is not a crime novel, it is part science fiction and part socio-political fable. Although there are one or two moving moments towards the end, the plot is completely predictable from the first page to the last. The theme is a well-trodden one, having been done very well, for example, in the excellent The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, and a lot less well in (the awful, in my opinion) Under the Skin by Michel Faber. It has its origins in classics such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Castle, and Animal Farm. I was disappointed in The Facility as I had loved the author’s debut, Rupture (A Thousand Cuts). Sadly, in The Facility, the writing is uneven and I found most of the situations (car chase, London train-station scene, etc) and characters (the prison inmates and guards, the journalists, the politicos, the 100 per cent efficient, sinister security forces) to be over-familiar and cliched.

I borrowed this novel from the library.

About the book at the author’s website. Read other reviews at: Goldsboro books, Farm Lane books and Metro.

My Euro Crime review of Rupture, the author’s excellent debut.