Metronome by Tom Watson

It’s not really clear when or where this book is set. It is sometime in the future because there are catastrophic climate events, people have to take tablets three times a day to stay alive and women have to apply to local government to have a child and sometimes are refused. To make matters worse, you can only apply once you are pregnant so being refused three times would do something to you. In Aina and Whitney’s case it meant keeping the child, Maxime, hidden in the house for years and never going out.

However, Anna gives in and takes Max to the swimming pool the other side of town hoping that no one would recognise them. Somebody does and Maxime is taken off them and they are banished to a small island for 12 years with deliveries from The Warden once a year. This island is rocky, has a spine down the middle and boats are regularly washed up providing materials and tools they wouldn’t otherwise have.

The tablets they have to take are as good as four walls for keeping Aina and Whitney tied to the place. They have to be taken every eight hours and this means it is difficult to explore very far or to wander. An eye must be kept on the clock at all times.

Their tether. Their leash. A ticking way keeping them in check.


And then one day when their twelve years are nearly up a sheep appears. This upsets the rhythm of their discussions: should they eat it or keep it for manure? The daily interactions and descriptions of their off-grid living are very detailed and compelling; a pair who have lived together in isolation for that many years and have developed small rituals, a cup of tea that turns out to be nettle tea, a favourite mug, washing up and drying crockery together and putting it away. It all speaks of a well-practised life that gets them through the days.

This appearance of a sheep shakes things up and they start to keep more and more secrets from each other, particularly when The Warden doesn’t turn up to release them. Even more shocking, a man and his daughter are washed onto the island in an enormous storm (the weather really is a portend of emotions in this book) and Whitney’s lies are revealed (Watson is a master at witholding information) and that it is really him that has trapped them on the island. In fact, it turns out that you don’t need a guard or warden to keep you under lock and key, we can do it to ourselves by not taking any risks or pushing the boundaries.

The morning of parole, the sea is calm. Grey. Almost entirely still. Boat weather.


Sentence length is used very effectively throughout the book.

So where is the metronome then? It was in their home as Whitney used it to help him fall asleep but on the island it is the regularity of the pill dispensary, the regularity of their days and seasons, their relationship, how Aina counts when she is stressed (Yan, tan, tethera, methera, pip – an old Celtic way of counting sheep) and the music that she hums.

What drives this story is a mother’s love for her child. It forces Aina to delay her tablet taking a little each day until she has spares. It helps her make the choice, ultimately, about staying or leaving.

I read this book in one sitting, not going to sleep until way after my bedtime. Fantastic.

If you liked the plot of this book, you might like Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.

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