Anna wakes up from an unspecified time that “felt like days” during which she was sleeping off a fever. It can’t have been that long, though, because Peter is still explaining the circumstances of their escape. Which, to be honest, you’d thought he’d have already done in the first few hours whilst Anna slept.
Anna gets to drink tea for the first time, and finds it amazing. But she can’t stop worrying about what might happen next – especially when her father gets a phone call saying the Catchers know exactly whereabouts to look. Anna realises it must be because of the diary, and she finally confesses that she not only wrote down all their plans, but also managed to lose said writings.
“And then she found her own muscles tensing, and she braced herself, waiting to be beaten.”
It’s weird how, underneath this rather mediocre book, there’s this incredibly sad and heart wrenching story that never quite gets told. Once again, we see how Anna’s upbringing in Grange Hall has shaped her to expect censure and beatings every time she makes a mistake. Remember, this is a girl with such low self esteem that she doesn’t believe she deserves to be happy, for whom tea is an amazing treat.
We then switch the Evil Mrs Pinsent, who is essentially cackling evilly over Anna’s journal and thinking evil thoughts.
“She knew her cruelty would far outstrip those clumsy Catchers. By the time she’d finished with them, they wouldn’t even remember their own names. They wouldn’t want to. They wouldn’t want to remember anything.”
If the Catchers are the minor lowlifes from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, then Mrs Pinsent is the ultimate Cruella de Vil. With a bit of Maleficent and Cinderella’s stepmother thrown in for good measure, of course.
But why is Mrs Pinsent so evil? It’s time for an extended flashback to find out. Previously, I had thought that she’d either had a miscarriage or been forced to have an abortion, but the truth is a little more complex.
“It had been the only thing she’d ever really wanted – to have a son, to make her father proud.”
“A boy who would win back the love of her own father, who had been severely disappointed when his own wife bore him a girl, a useless female.”
Basically, from the start, the one thing Mrs Pinsent wanted above all was to have a child. And it had to be a boy, because in this misogynistic universe women are worthless. Is the author deliberately making this world hate women because she wants to underline how awful it is? Or is it just her own internalised misogyny spilling out onto the page? I honestly can’t tell, but I don’t like it.
It turns out that there are a handful of high ranking officials who are allowed to both take Longevity and have a child, because powerful people always get to bend the rules. Mrs Pinsent tactically makes one such person fall in love with her, and bears his child.
Unfortunately, seven months in, Mrs Pinsent finds out that her husband knocked up another woman before he got her pregnant, and so that child takes priority – making Mrs Pinsent’s beloved son destined to be a Surplus.
“in some regions, no time was considered too late – long needles would be injected into swollen bellies to poison the unborn child, forcing the mother to give birth to her dead baby just hours later.”
This is not a pleasant universe.
Mrs Pinsent tries to kill herself and her unborn child, but is prevented from doing so and forced to carry the child to term. She decides that death is better for the baby, and arranges for her husband to get rid of him. So, in fact, Evil Mrs Pinsent is Tragic Mrs Pinsent.
Back in the present, Evilly Tragic Mrs Pinsent continues to read Anna’s diary, all the while hating on Peter and Anna for being Surplus and defiant and being alive when her son is dead.
Or is he? Anna has written down some very specific details about the signet ring that was found with baby Peter. Could it possibly be that Mrs Pinsent recognises the ring from her ring? Could Peter, who never knew his parents, be her son? Spoilers: he will indeed turn out to be just that.
After a brief paragraph from the point of view of a couple of Catchers to remind us how brutal and evil they are, we switch back to Peter and Anna. Naturally, no one has beaten Anna for her loss of the diary, but it has caused a last minute change of plans. Until they can all leave for the country, Peter and Anna hide out in the cellar, where they confess their feelings for each other.
“That without each other they were so alone it hurt. That they needed each other like flowers needed the sun.”
As I’ve repeatedly said, this does not feel like the basis of a healthy relationship to me. As we know, Peter has been obsessing over Anna since before he even met her. And Anna thinks she’s so worthless and undeserving that of course she’s latched onto the first ever person to be nice to her. What these two fucked up kids need is a lot of counselling and chance to grow up and mature in a friendly and safe environment. But presumably instead we’re supposed to accept their love as amazing, romantic and touchingly sweet.
And we wonder why people get all the wrong ideas about relationships from fiction.