The Hit by Melvin Burgess (2013)
‘Part One: Death’. We have well and truly landed in the recent Melvin Burgess novel, The Hit (2013). Imagine popping a pill which propels you into a life of pure ecstasy, energy and optimism. Surrounded by a society that is crumbling, this pill will make you high on life. The only catch? You die after the best week of your life. No antidote, no acquittal. This is the premise of The Hit, which promises to be as hard hitting and controversial as Burgess’s previous novels, including the notorious Junk (1996) and Doing It (2003).
Burgess depicts a restless society that is unhappy with the failing structures that the government enforce. The rich live decadently, and the poor feel the pinch. Within this restrictive and failing social structure, the protagonist, Adam, struggles to create a sense of identity. The Hit manifests these deep social and individual preoccupations in many scenes, including the opening chapter. Riots begin to break out at a cultural icon’s concert, and through these riots there is a call for change. Adam and Lizzie witness the death of the icon on stage which sparks a cataclysmic revolution. Jimmy has taken Death. The threat, allure and temptation of this pill encompasses the plot, and haunts the characters through the novel.
The pains of teenage existence are portrayed exactly in the novel, something which Burgess has down to a fine art. After Adam has fallen victim to unyielding love, endures a family bereavement and has his future is pulled out from underneath him, it seems to him that Death is a reasonable option. Adam examines his meagre existence and in a moment of bereft loneliness, he does what we all question we would do; he swallows the pill. From this point on he is enslaved by time. With a typically adolescent bucket list to fulfil, his relationship with Lizzie is pushed to its limits.
The Hit is seemingly a novel of polarities; life and death, rich and poor, revolution and peace. However, corrupt criminals, psychotic gangsters, and dangerous mind games all become tied up in Adam’s last week and the novels polarities become more complex. The twist that is revealed is distinctly uncomfortable to read, but nevertheless riveting. This is one of the great qualities of Burgess; he encourages the young adult reader face unpleasant elements of the novel, and by extension, life.
The Hit examines aspects of Marxist theory through the presentation of Adam’s personal development against society he lives in, and the commodification of Death. Whilst there are strong political strands running through the novel, The Hit is ultimately a novel with one clear message; to live life. The novel is an ambassador for young adult fiction as it does not shy away from controversial and thought provoking subjects. Burgess remains at the forefront of adolescent fiction, always pushing the boundaries. The Hit is an absorbing novel which stays with you long after you have read it; a mark of true success.