The Test by Sylvain Neuvel is a speculative fiction novella that is a mindfuck of societal critiques wrapped into a neat and unsuspecting little package. It follows Idir, who is an Iranian, Muslim man who is taking the British citizenship test that consists of twenty-five simple questions. However, whilst taking the exam, something godawfully dangerous and deadly starts to take place.
I briefly read a few reviews for this story prior to picking it up from the library. I knew that it confronted the institutionalised face of racism and bigotry, and the subject matter would eventually become a bit difficult to stomach, yet I had no idea just how chaotically intense things would become. These one-hundred-some-odd pages gave me notions to contemplate that are incredibly haunting; things I usually try not to think about because as an immigrant they could destroy me emotionally and mentally. But here I was, faced with my fears and worst nightmares. It was intoxicatingly terrifying.
To avoid giving spoilers, all I will say is that the novella is chock full of social commentary, psychological anecdotes on human behaviour, and insights in what it’s like to have your beliefs and morals challenged in the most extreme circumstances possible. I think my favourite part (and most disturbing motif) is the lengths that a colonist civilisation shall go to in order to “filter” out things that they feel don’t fit their narrow-minded perceptions of perfection. For example, countries will turn away seemingly rude and discourteous individuals, yet then by the same thread deftly spin about and willingly accept ferociously violent people with open arms. In most cases the deciding factor between the two is whether they are POC or non-POC.
This book takes those biases and that bigotry and turns it inwards for the individual reader to ponder while expressing all of the ridiculous loopholes that immigrants have to go through in order to be naturalised. It asks questions about morality and subconscious prejudices that systematically ingrained into us while growing up, either via parents and guardians, or the things we consume around us. The topics that are succinctly covered focus on gender, sexual orientation, body image discourse—all of it. Everything that is deeply buried into the various layers of societal structure, not just within an individual’s psyche.
“System justification is the idea that many of our needs can be satisfied by defending and justifying the status quo. It gives stability to our political and economic systems because people are inherently inclined to defend it. It prevents people at a disadvantage from questioning the system that disadvantages them, makes people buy the inevitability of social inequity, ignore or support policies that hurt them.”
The writing is candid as it alternates between Idir’s perspective and the perspective of another. With Idir, we get to see man who loves his family dearly and is eager to pass the exam so he can continue to give them a decent shot at life. With the other side, we see the darkness of everything that I have mentioned. It reads quite fast, more so as the force of the mind-fuckery begins to take shape. By the time I reached the ending, my jaw was in my lap and my mind and heart were a basket case of emotions and thoughts.
The Test is a brilliant novella and further establishes Sylvain Neuvel as one of the most adept and curiously inclusive authors of our time; one who isn’t afraid to put all of the blood-infused dirty laundry that society keeps buried right onto the table for everyone to take in. The way that his stories forces you to think about the world and part that you play—and how it may seem small, yet it’s anything but—is positively exceptional. Hands-down without a doubt, he is one of my newest favourite writers.
If you like speculative fiction and stories that can get into the darkest, safest parts of your brain, I highly recommend that you check out The Test.
5 apples outta 5!
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