Dr. Kisi Sorle keeps losing time. It’s as though an alien force has been occupying his body. After one such occupation, Kisi finds himself in possession of a suitcase that appears to be not of this world. The next time the force takes him over, he places the ailing CEO of a highly unethical oil corporation inside the suitcase and boards a flight from the US to the UK.
But Kisi, or rather, his occupant, hasn’t reckoned on Pearl—a middle-aged angel with the Resistance who’s working as a flight attendant. She’s convinced the suitcase contains something Kisi’s occupant stole from her: her HD wave launcher, without which she can’t return home. Now that she’s found it again, she’ll stop at nothing to get it back.
So begins this high-paced international sci-fi thriller that I can guarantee is unlike anything you’ve read before.
The narrative (mostly) alternates between Kisi in second person and Pearl in first. Later, others get involved, including a pragmatic Scottish vet named Angela who’s into handcrafts and drinks more than she should. But Pearl is the real star of the book. One of the most entertaining characters I’ve come across in a long while. She’s an impressive physical specimen:
‘..A fifty-something woman of indeterminate not-European ancestry, her denuded head wrapped in an orange cloth, her weighty breasts moving slow pendula even in the tightest exercise bra. Shoulders like a linebacker. Traps so steep they looked like one of those road signs that warn trucks to use a low gear. Legs bowed and springy, feet large and high-arched. A nice thick layer of subcutaneous fat: no chance of this one passing as a ripped-up body builder. She was packing power.
She also has wings which are only visible in HD (higher dimensions). But beneath her intimidating physique, she’s a softie, connecting a little too deeply with everyone she meets. In her words:
I fall in love with you all. Random people. I just look at them and I want to get all up inside them. I want to go with them and be them only more somehow, I want to… I don’t know what it is, like provide some kind of enhancement. Tell me honestly, is that eww? Should I be thinking about the ethics of this?
Occupy Me is superbly written and hilariously witty in places. The style reminded me a little of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2005). However, I found the plot somewhat difficult to follow, particularly towards the end; it starts strange and gets downright surreal. More and more characters are introduced, history is rewritten and the story starts to move in and out of HD. Reality breaks down. It all gets a bit trippy. There are bird gods, incredibly advanced AI, data streams buried in oil and feathers, possessed characters who shape shift, a quetzalcoatlus, high stakes embezzlement and a sick cat called Teacake. Sullivan also explores some really complex ideas: occupation in its various forms, postcolonialism, what’s ‘real’ and what’s not, what is remembered and by whom, power, legacy and immortality, to name just a few.
I think of myself as a reasonably savvy reader, and I’ve read my fair share of experimental texts. I wondered if maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace for Occupy Me when I read it. Perhaps that’s a factor, but I don’t think it’s the full story. Going in, I knew this one was going to bend my mind, and I was open to that. In fact, I was completely hooked for the first half. The premise was intriguing, the characters were fascinating, Sullivan’s prose sparked, themes were emerging and I was keeping up. Then Sullivan kicked into a higher gear, and I lagged further and further behind. Occupy Me is a slim read, just 265 pages, and for me, there were too many big concepts, characters, plot twists and realities crammed into such a small space. It was overwhelming. At the end of the book, I was dizzy, as though I’d just stepped off a disorienting show ride: ‘That was fun! What happened…?’
Overall, Occupy Me is strange and thrilling with a truly unique protagonist, and I’m glad I read it, even if it wasn’t quite my speed.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of Occupy Me in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up 18 critical issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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