Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith – review

RAS Baby X front cover image with outline scaledI first met Rebecca last autumn, it was lovely to meet her in person and she told me about her debut novel Baby X being published in summer 2016. It seemed so far in the future at the time. And now I find it hard to believe publication date is almost here! Baby X is being published by the independent publisher Mother’s Milk Books, and I’ve been very lucky to receive a preview copy.

Will we ever see the day when babies are grown in an artificial womb? In Vitro Gestation (IVG) is explored in Rebecca Ann Smith’s debut novel Baby X.

The narration in Baby X is shared by three woman and has a contemporary feel which will be familiar if you read psychological thrillers such as The Girl on the Train. The main character, Dr Alex Mansfield, narrates in the first person and we first meet her when she is on the run with Baby X. How she reached this stage is the story of the book.

The beleaguered parents of Baby X are Karen and Rob Frey. The media interest in their lives, as the first couple to have an IVG baby, feels spot on. Karen has to cope with misreporting in the press and misogynist comments on social media and all the while she is worrying about her baby growing in his artificial uterus.

And Karen is right to be worried: although the baby’s environment appears perfectly designed and protected, he also seems vulnerable in there. It raises the question whether there can ever be a place as safe as a mother’s womb.

The third narrator is Dolly McFarlane: a colleague of Dr Mansfield’s who we see at a public inquiry into what went wrong at the Centre of Reproductive Medicine. She helps chart the story of Dr Mansfield’s transition from a detached scientist, who chose not to have children, into a woman so emotionally attached that she risks everything.

So what goes wrong? If I told you that I would spoil the story where the reader is unsure who to trust and questions the personal interest each character has in Baby X. There’s a large commercial organization involved as well – a company with motivations unlikely to be in the interest of Baby X and his family.

The story excels in its scientific description and I love the fusion of cold science with the warm nurturing of motherhood. Rebecca uses her scientific knowledge to paint a very convincing picture of IVG.

Although IVG does not run smoothly in this story, the book does not read as a condemnation of the idea, instead I felt invited to consider whether it could work in reality or whether it would be a step beyond human capabilities. We have the scientific capability, but are we emotionally capable to stretch this far? The theme of ethics is a strong one and I love the way Rebecca leaves this open for the reader to make their own mind up.

Rebecca has written an extremely thought-provoking tale about science and motherhood which made me question whether the two can ever be compatible. It’s a sophisticated debut which raises more questions than it answers. It will leave you thinking long after you’ve finished the last page.

Baby X will be published on 25th June and is available on pre-order from Mother’s Milk Books now! More details here.

Here is more about Rebecca in her own words:

I write novels for adults, teenagers and children. I’m interested in creativity, feminism and social justice; I blog mainly about my writing process, but occasionally about politics, swimming and any random stuff I like… I am a keen swimmer, though my technique leaves much to be desired.

Visit Rebecca’s blog here.

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