The Pharmacist

By Rachelle Atalla

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I was really looking forward to reading this and was expecting a Sci-Fi Thriller. The blurb on the book, seemed interesting, and there’s even the Thriller classification printed above the barcode on the back. Unfortunately, the book never lived up to the hype of the back cover.

First on the writing style. The prose was fine – nothing special but thankfully not as bad as YA books that I have accidentally read (why I now check online before buying books, even if they are in the adult section). But the big flaw in style was that there were no quotes around anything anyone says. Aside from being lazy, it’s annoying and distracting to read. I honestly almost put the book down after chapter one. But I did like the sound of the story and kept at it. And kept at it. And kept at it. Until I was nearing the end of the book and realising it wasn’t going to get good.

The book opens in a nuclear bunker. It’s unclear how long everyone has been in the bunker, though one passage at Xmas time suggests that it might be their first Xmas in the bunker. Apparently rations were properly thought out and based on space food, and yet despite the bunker housing the number of people planned for, everyone is malnourished. Except of course the leader who is, surprise surprise, living in a section that has all the comforts of the world they left behind. There is absolutely no mention of what happened to require them to go into the bunker, but there is reference to radiation and the slow death that those left above the surface (the bunker is under a shopping mall) due to it. But there is also frequent reference to when it’s time to leave – in a way that suggests it will be in the lifetime of those who were adults when they entered the bunker. This is where the Sci-Fi falls down. It felt like attempted Sci-Fi from someone who doesn’t realise that the “Sci” in Sci-Fi stands for science.

We’re promised a Thriller, but a creepy leader first manipulating (or bribing), and then threatening, the main character to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do, does not a Thriller make.

So what does that leave? Well, a story about a pharmacist working in a closed world (the bunker), with lots of depressed people (because bunker) with not much to do (because not much of interest came into the bunker) who are all losing muscle mass (see above re food in the bunker, so people can’t exercise). With women being sexually assaulted (though not really much/any effort to find the culprits), and too many people wanting to commit suicide resulting in no one having unsupervised access to anything that could be used (except doctors, pharmacists and soldiers of course).

Overall, it feels like there was a seed of a good idea, that wasn’t allowed to grow before the book was written. It could have been good, instead it was mediocre. The plus side is, it was a fast read. I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say it was a good book either.

(I’m going to leave the Sci-Fi and Thriller tags on this review, because that’s what the book is claiming/trying to be. But I’m adding contemporary fiction, because that’s what the book is)

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