Published: 12 May 2022
Author: Rachelle Atalla
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Length: 368 pages
Reading dates: 8-11 May 2022
THE BUNKER IS DESIGNED TO KEEP THEM ALL SAFE.
In the end, very few people made it to the bunker. Now they wait there for the outside world to heal. Wolfe is one of the lucky ones. She’s safe and employed as the bunker’s pharmacist, doling out medicine under the watchful eye of their increasingly erratic and paranoid leader.
BUT IS IT THE PLACE OF GREATEST DANGER?
But when the leader starts to ask things of Wolfe, favours she can hardly say no to, it seems her luck is running out. Forming an unlikely alliance with the young Doctor Stirling, her troubled assistant Levitt, and Canavan – a tattooed giant of a man who’s purpose in the bunker is a mystery – Wolfe must navigate the powder keg of life underground where one misstep will light the fuse. The walls that keep her safe also have her trapped.
How much more is Wolfe willing to give to stay alive?
I’m thrilled to be sharing my publication day review of The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla! Set in a bunker after what we assume to be a nuclear war, Wolfe is a woman in her 30s, who is one of the pharmacists in the facility and we see the bunker through her eyes. The residents are a mixture of the wealthy, privileged and useful and their leader also lives underground with them. Residents sleep in bunk beds which are 4 beds high, wear boiler suits and eat pouches of pureed food.
When Wolfe is sexually assaulted one day at the pharmacy she tells a her bunk mate Canavan who arranges for her to visit the leader, who promises to provide her with an assistant to help her feel safe. Levitt is a teenage girl from the other side of the bunker and her and Wolfe become friends.
I love speculative fiction and as soon as I heard about The Pharmacist I wanted to read it and I loved it every much as I thought I would. Wolfe is a flawed character – we hear about her affair with a married man, and how it was his influence that got her a place in the bunker. After a man commits suicide in a pretty inventive way, she is constantly thinking about ways to die, questioning what would happen if she threw herself from her bunk or drank soap. The pharmacy itself is strictly controlled – residents have to come in daily for their medication, and Wolfe has to check their mouths to make sure they have swallowed it.
The book has a feeling of tension and desperation running through it and I had to question if survival in the bunker was worth it, as it felt very much like living in a prison, with very little quality of life. As Wolfe gets more involved with the increasingly paranoid leader, the level of threat increases and she is made to question her choices. I liked the relationships she had including her love interest Dr Stirling and with another bunk mate who she would go travelling with in the library,
Highly recommended, I loved this atmospheric and thought provoking book. The Pharmacist transported me to the bunker and I could truly feel what it would feel like to live there! A fabulous debut which will be going in my top 10 of 2022!
Thank you to Niamh Anderson for sending me a finished copy of the book.
About the author
Rachelle Atalla is a Scottish-Egyptian novelist, short story writer and screenwriter based in Glasgow. Her debut novel The Pharmacist will be published by Hodder & Stoughton in May 2022, with her second novel Livestock scheduled for the following year. Her short stories have been published widely in literary anthologies; she is the recipient of a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award and co-edits New Writing Scotland.
In film and television, Rachelle’s first short film screenplay Trifle was commissioned by the Scottish Film & Talent Network and is currently enjoying a successful festival run, including being officially selected for the LA International Short Film Festival. Rachelle has a four-part mini-drama in development with Hopscotch Films, and most recently she has been selected to participate in the 2021 Young Films Foundation Skye residency programme, developing her first feature length screenplay with BBC Films.