The Survival of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

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A fascinating continuation of the story begun in The Murders of Molly Southbourne that answered some of the questions I was left with at the end of the first book, but also posed some new ones. DO NOT pass the next full stop if you haven’t read Murders because any discussion of The Survival of Molly Southbourne will absolutely spoil the end of that first book.

Are you still with me?

Then let’s talk about Molly.

 

The Molly who narrates this time round is the duplicate that Molly Prime created and told her story to at the end of Murders. Having survived the ensuing fire, the molly now finds herself to be the only Molly. Unable to create duplicates and not faced with the continual threat that they pose, Molly is adrift. Everything she knows presumes a life that she does not have. Furthermore, even though she has not killed any mollies, she carries the guilt for every murder performed by Molly Prime. This, coupled with her lack of purpose and a period of drug abuse triggers a psychotic break.

This version of Molly is a little disappointing after the very capable Molly in Murders. She is vulnerable here, she makes mistakes, she carries Molly’s knowledge, but doesn’t have the experience to back it up. They are not the same person. They do not face the same obstacles (and so become steadily more different). This opens a door onto a dark and cavernous room full of questions about identity and personhood that kind of blows my mind. Just one of those questions revolves around this: at the moment of her ‘birth’ this molly was identical to Molly Prime, but every experience, every conversation, everything she learns and does from then on moves her further and further away from Molly Prime; moves her towards being a different person. An individual.

Which means that every time Molly Prime killed a molly, she was murdering a person. Yes, a copy of herself, but one who held all the potential that any other person does.

I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job of explaining myself here, but this Molly’s story made me reflect back on Molly Prime’s and suddenly feel an extra level of horror for all those people she killed.

A horror that only got worse when Molly meets Tamara and her cooperative duplicates. I wondered during my reading of Murders whether the mollies were only murderous because Molly had been taught to kill anyone who looked like her. Tamara answers that question. She embraces each new tamara, welcomes them, gives them a home. Where Molly Prime seemed defined by her loneliness, Tamara has created for herself a family. (This pings something in my brain about self-hate versus self-love, but I can’t drag it out into a coherent form, so it’ll just have to percolate a while longer).

The weirdest part of this story, for me, was the whole spies, Russian scientists and kill squads thing. Vitali Ignatiy confused me (he’s a great big why? in my head – the information he has, his basement, his chat with Molly – all why?), and the clean-up/kill squad almost as much. They provided a sense of danger, I guess, but not a great deal of interest when I was also reading about molly-ghosts and the fate of Professor James Down (which was frigging awesome).

 

Survival is a different type of book to Murders. I didn’t find it as tense (and occasionally downright scary), although it was equally as thought-provoking. It seems much more concerned with the psychological impact of Molly’s condition and more exploratory in nature. I liked it a lot, but in a different way to how I liked Murders. These are absolutely a pair to be read and reread though, and I appreciated all over again Thompson’s clear, precise prose. Highly and heartily recommended.

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