Review – Echo Boy by Matt Haig

By | February 8, 2014

Audrey’s father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters.

Daniel is an echo – but he’s not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he’s determined to save her.

Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human.

I’m an unashamed fan of Matt Haig’s writing. Back in August I reviewed his magnificent The Humans, and talked (at length) about how The Last Family In England is one of my favourite books ever.  The author has a wonderful imagination, and an ability to create worlds in which you have absolute involvement and suspension of disbelief. He’s also a quite fantastic story teller. 

Echo Boy is a little different from some of the other novels I’ve loved by Matt Haig – it’s firmly targeted at young adults, and at 58 I’m not sure if I’m really qualified to judge whether it’ll meet the expectations of its market.  But it certainly seems to tick all the right boxes – Audrey is a slightly geeky teen (her shoulders are too wide, and she walks like a boy), Daniel certainly sounds like he’d fit well into a boy band (except for the fact that he’s not quite human), and the connection between them will undoubtedly stir young hearts.  Considering the audience, there’s quite a lot of blood – some violent deaths and a dramatic escape in the first few chapters, some particularly evil dogs further on, a zoo with Neanderthal residents serviced by malfunctioning Echos, and a villain who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends. But I guess tastes have changed since I was thirteen.

The fascination of this book for me was the world in which it was set – along with the fact that it was a rattling good read.  Something cataclysmic has happened to the world, and the Yorkshire where Audrey lives is now a flood plain – they live in an apartment raised above the water, high speed transport passes their window at invisible speed, her mother attends meetings in New New York and Japan in a morning, her grandmother lives on the moon, lessons take place in an immersion pod, and their household duties are undertaken either by robots or Echos (enhanced computerised humanoid organisms). Audrey’s father is a technophobe, an honourable man who writes articles attacking new technology: the irony is that his brother runs one of the biggest companies in the technological world.  The family’s problems are only beginning when Audrey convinces him to replace their aging robot with an Echo.

While this all sounds like science fiction, and that might not be your favourite genre, what this book really explores – in a very different and original way – is what it means to be human. There’s love, loss, grief, trust, betrayal and real human cruelty, and I found the whole book absolutely fascinating from beginning to end.  What an incredible imagination. Do buy a copy for your teen, but make sure you read it yourself too – you might just enjoy it as much as I did.

Echo Boy is published by Random House on 27th March, and will be available in hardback and Kindle editions.  My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.