Eva, by Peter Dickinson (1988)

Eva cover
This is the precursor to popular recent books like The Adoration of Jenna Fox and the Skinned trilogy. Attractive, athletic Eva is in a coma after a horrible car accident. To save her, her parents agree to an experimental treatment: re-growing her mind in the body of a chimpanzee.

In Jenna Fox and Skinned, the main characters spend chapter after chapter bemoaning what they’ve lost and how Wrong their new bodies feel. What’s fantastic about Eva is that, while she’s understandably a bit freaked out to see a chimp in the mirror, she realizes that she has to not just accept it, but be happy about it.

Okay, it was better than dying, but that wasn’t enough. You had to awaken and open your eyes and see your new face and like what you saw. You had to make the human greeting and the chimp greeting and mean them.

Her father is a chimp researcher, so she grew up with chimps and feels at home with them; suddenly being one is not such a terrible stretch for her. The book is not so much about Eva coming to terms with her chimp half as it is about the rest of the world doing so.

Apocalypse how? This is one of the few books I can think of that watches a slow apocalypse happen. At the start of the book you know that there are many, many more people on Earth than we have now, packed into every corner. Almost all animals that aren’t adapted to live with people have gone extinct — except for chimps, because of their research value. But the middle-class Western world, at least, is chugging along much like ours does. When the apocalypse comes, it isn’t a bomb or a natural disaster; it’s simply human beings, unable to live in the world we’ve created:

“It’s happening all over. The whole human race is thinking in shorter and shorter terms…. We’re giving up. Packing it in…. Trouble with us humans is we keep forgetting we’re animals. You know what happens when an animal population expands beyond what the setup will bear? Nature finds ways of cutting them back. Usually it’s plain starvation, but even when there’s food to go around something gets triggered inside them. They stop breeding or they eat their own babies or peck one another to death — there’s all sorts of ways. Us too. It’s in us. We can’t escape it.”

By the end of the book, crowds of people are putting rocks in their pockets and walking into the ocean. It’s one of the saddest, most beautiful apocalypses I ever read, and I think it had a heavy hand in shaping my values.

13 vs. 31: This absolutely holds up. Not only is it still a beautifully written book, it doesn’t seem dated at all, and in fact still manages to feel unique twenty years later.

Listen-alikes: I feel compelled to mention that in junior high my friend P and I were obsessed with how Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Walk on the Ocean” reminded us of this book. More than a decade later when I heard We’re About 9’s “Weight of the Ocean,” I had the same reaction.

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6 Responses to Eva, by Peter Dickinson (1988)

  1. I never did read this one, though it was suggested in one of my classes in school. It sounds really intriguing. I think the whole chimp body threw me off at first, but you make it sound much more appealing. So excited to see what else you have this month!

  2. Miriam says:

    Wow, I read this book but mostly remember that the chimps were not anthropomorphized at all. Eva really has to live in chimp society as a person in the body of an animal. Young Miriam didn’t really appreciate how awesome that is, but grown-up-dolphin-hating Miriam does.

    I don’t remember the mass suicides at all. Maybe it’s time to re-read. Also YAY for Apocalypse April!

  3. Sam says:

    Martini-Corona: How come? I’m not sure how those are related. Scientists still want to make discoveries, even when terrible things are going on elsewhere.

  4. Martini-Corona says:

    Huh — hard to see (without reading, of course) how wasting huge amounts of resources transplanting a brain is worthwhile if large numbers of people are walking into the sea.

    Speaking of which, Children of Men (the book, not the movie) features similar race suicide, though it’s dealt with as an aside, separately from the main plot line.

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