“Alex Mansfield, the doctor leading a groundbreaking project to grow a human foetus in an artificial uterus, has gone on the run and taken the newborn baby with her. While the child’s parents wait anxiously for news, and the world’s media clamour for answers, Alex’s colleagues are shocked by her actions. Has Alex stolen the baby, or is there another motive behind her disappearance?
Baby X weaves science and medical ethics into an intimate thriller; asking questions without offering easy answers.”
I’ve been longing to get my hands on this book for a while, having met its author, Rebecca Ann Smith, last October when Baby X was being edited. Becky described her book as “a psychological thriller about motherhood, technology and medical ethics”, which had me intrigued from the start! Many months, edits and a publication date later, having finally devoured my copy, I’m pleased to say that the book (much like Becky herself) had me thoroughly engaged and captivated.
The novel’s eponymous baby is the first human being to be grown in a medical laboratory, inside an artificial uterus. Apart from that though, he is just an average baby who has grown and developed normally. Because, although an artificial uterus might sound odd, it’s totally safe – a controlled environment designed to provide for the foetus in much the way a mother’s womb does. So there’s no reason to believe that his development would have been affected or altered in anyway by outside forces… is there?
So why has the doctor devoted to his conception and care, run away with him? What does she know (or suspect) that may have led her to such drastic action? Is In Vitro Gestation (IVG) really as safe as it purports to be, or are sinister forces at work?
As we try to unravel the mystery, the story is told from three points of view – that of Alex, the doctor who has taken Baby X, Karen, the baby’s mother and Dolly, the research assistant. All three voices are strong and distinctive and I found myself torn particularly between Alex, whose bond with Baby X grows ever more profound, and Karen who just wants her much-longed-for child in her arms. Dolly’s voice introduces a lighter touch and the backdrop of media scrutiny adds to the tension of the unfolding tale.
A great strength of the story was that the science in Baby X felt totally real. I’m aware that Becky did plenty of research in this area and I thought that it was evident – all the ‘science bits’ felt natural and realistic and integrated seamlessly with the rest of the action. Although the idea of IVG feels, in some ways, a million miles from where we are now, within the book it felt like simply an extension of the medical science we already have – we already conceive life outside of the womb so why not grow it there too if we could? In this way, the novel had a contemporary rather than futuristic feel. I could really imagine the issues the novel explores arising in our society, the consequences they might have and the further questions they might raise. It made the book thought-provoking in a way that has lodged with me and lingered.
Of equal importance was the human side of the story which I thought Becky handled with an extremely deft touch. As a mother myself, many of the scenes with Baby X rang profoundly true and were very moving. The attachment of mother and child, the odd, otherworldliness of the newborn, the trials of breastfeeding, the mind-altering, crushing tiredness… all of this was portrayed so accurately, I couldn’t help but empathise with the central characters. It gave the thriller-aspect of the story an added emotional punch.
Overall, this is a hugely impressive debut, one which wound its way to a satisfying conclusion while leaving me with ethical questions to consider beyond its pages. I very much hope you will read it and please let me know if you do as I love nothing more than a good old chat about books!