Blame is a near-future dystopian novel set in the UK. Following a global economic depression, public anger focuses on those who benefited financially from embezzlement, fraud or other crimes. The people want revenge, but in many cases the perpetrators are dead or can't be found. So attention turns to their descendants, and the concept of "heritage crime" is born.
As Abie (a.k.a. Ant) explains it: "People don't like us, Mattie, you know that. Outside it's because we 'got away' with it for so long, because we had this great life we weren't supposed to have…. It makes them feel better if they can blame us for everything. They used to blame black people, refugees, Jews, immigrants, whatever. Then they ran out of people to point fingers at. So now it's us."
Ant, her brother Mattie, and their foster parents Gina and Dan, are all found guilty of having criminal parents, and are put in one of the new "family prisons" in the UK. Their chief tormentor is Assessor Grey, the man who spearheaded the family-jailing movement. He also dreamed up the cruel strap that bolts onto the backs of these "heritage criminals" and prevents them from walking normally. The resultant gait gives them the nickname "strutters."
Ant is a rebel and unwilling to keep her head down until her "debt to society" is paid. She's looking for a way to escape, and not a moment too soon, as conditions are deteriorating, not only in their own prison but in the prison full of actual violent criminals, which, awkwardly enough, connects to their prison via a corridor.
Bizarre circumstances ensue, leading to Ant and her brother finding themselves on the lam with a gang of other strutters. In order to survive, they must commit some minor crimes—a reminder that when we label people as bad, fairly or not, and repeat it over and over again, they tend to oblige us by becoming so.
Other improbable things happen, and it all culminates in a bonanza of triumphant improbability. People who demand realism in their fiction may not be happy with this book. On the other hand, readers who can suspend their disbelief will find it a breathless ride. It is, in fact, much like a Hollywood thriller.
It's also thought-provoking. One is tempted to dismiss the novel's central conceit as something that could never happen in our allegedly enlightened society. But look at what's happening in the world today. Even well-off people are ready to see themselves as the victims of Syrians, Mexicans, etc., who come from other countries in search of a better life. A Trump presidency seemed a laughable impossibility to many just one year ago. Blame is popular right now. The Bible itself gives us a precedent for heritage crime, saying "The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Numbers 14:18).
One of my favorite things about Blame is its sprinkling of foreign languages. Ant and Mattie are half Haitian and sometimes speak Creole to each other. A Creole nursery rhyme that serves as a metaphor for their condition comes up in a couple of places. Creole is a fascinating mix of French and something altogether different.
Another language that comes up in the book is German. Germany is the only country in Europe without heritage crime laws. They have learned from their history and no longer give in to the temptation to blame a group of others for their problems. Thus German is seen by the strutters as the language of freedom. Strutters dream of immigrating to Germany.
Finally, the strutters have their own slang, a glossary to which is provided at the beginning of the book. The author appears to take a special interest in languages. I'm curious to see if he plays with languages in his other novels.