The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou, Sharmila Cohen
Published by World Editions
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
A young woman, strong and proud, stands on the top of a high-rise thousands of feet tall. Below her a crowd chants her name and yells for her to jump. She does, plunging to within inches of certain death before activating the flight mode in her specially constructed suit and soaring back up above the crowd. She is Riva, 20-years-old and a chosen athlete, a physically perfect specimen with the skill and mental stamina to defy death every single day. She is famous, a celebrity, wealthy, but now? Now, she sits crouched in her expensive apartment refusing to do anything. Her employer has hired PsySolutions to ‘cure’ her. Hitomi is the psychologist assigned and the narrator of this futuristic drama, The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou.
Much like Klara and the Sun, The High-Rise Diver is set at an unspecified time and in an unknown location. What is clear is that this is a future completely controlled by big business and neatly bisected between cities and the “peripheries”—which seem to be a slumlike area with no technology or modern services. If Riva continues to break her contract she’ll be banished to the peripheries. Just as importantly, unless Hitomi heals her, she too, will lose the life she’s fought so hard to gain. Using the technology of the times, Hitomi watches Riva on secret surveillance cameras mounted throughout her apartment. She knows everything there is to know about her, thanks to her activity tracker. She has analysts scouring years of data and footage to see what may have occurred at some point in the recent past to turn the enthusiastic athlete into a lethargic, silent child who sits on the floor playing with a toy. Her boyfriend, a photographer, whose career is largely due to her fame, has been enlisted and is working with Hitomi to try and encourage (and later pressure) Riva to get back to her career, but with no success.
For as much as The High-Rise Diver is about Riva, as the novel progresses it becomes clear that Hitomi is under severe stress as well. She must succeed with Riva to prove herself. Every day that Riva is out of commission beyond the delivery date promised to her company is one more black mark against Hitomi’s record. And while Hitomi is no athlete it becomes clear her life is as managed as Riva’s. Her boss constantly texts her, not just about her work, but on personal issues as well. She’s been sterilized and dates only men whose profiles are matched with hers.
Under the guise of ‘wellbeing’ employers monitor everything about their employees from their diets and exercise to REM sleep cycles. Kind of like a next generation Apple watch. All of this data is constantly being recorded and when it shifts out of pre-determined norms, warnings appear. Kind, concerned, warnings—advising meditation when cortisol levels stay chronically high, more leafy greens to lower cholesterol. Not fixing problems results in employment termination.
The problem is the longer Hitomi watches Riva, poring over her data, the less she understands. When she finally decides to plant a new ‘friend’ in Riva’s life it brings about a change, but not necessarily as desired. Pressure on both women ratchets steadily higher, but only Hitomi seems to care about losing her job, which secures her credit score, which is all that stands between her and the peripheries.
Hitomi’s job and current situation are just one aspect of the dystopian landscape created by von Lucadou. The novel is reminiscent of 1984 and other dark-future books, but with the difference that von Lucadou lulls the reader into complacency with the protective warmth of technology. It’s a bit invasive, but it’s for the greater good and makes life better, until it doesn’t. She peels back the curtain to reveal pre-determined lives where money is the only differentiator. Freedom is a lost concept. Writing The High-Rise Diver in a detached, factual tone only makes the truth more frightening. As Hitomi faces plummeting from her safe perch in life it’s clear that, chilling though it is, the end may be a relief.
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