Book review: The Pharmacist – Rachella Atalla

The Pharmacist is the debut novel from Scottish-Egyptian writer Rachella Atalla. She has previously written short stories and also written for the screen.

In The Pharmacist we follow Wolfe, a pharmacist in a bunker that people have migrated to following a disaster-event on earth. We don’t get to know exactly what has happened but some kind of nuclear war event is hinted upon.

Wolfe’s life as a pharmacist in the bunker is pretty mundane, helping people in the bunker get the right medications and making sure that they are taking their medications as prescribed by the doctors.

Following a threatening situation in the pharmacy, Wolfe comes into contact with the leader of the bunker, ND, asking him for a guard at the pharmacy, but instead she gets an assistant. ND also asks her to do him some other favours and start reporting to him continually.

The pharmacy becomes a bit of a microcosmos within the bunker where much of the story takes place. What drives the novel forward is the increasing demands from a more and more suspicious and paranoid leader.

The setting of the book feels a bit like the awesome Wool-trilogy. Life in the bunker is not explained much outside of Wolfe’s and her closest friends day to day life though. It’s easy to wonder what many of the other people in the bunker are doing during the days and how it all is put together into a working system. The decision to focus on one character makes the story more focused, even though a bit more depth might have been nice.

Wolfe is kind of a complex character, but I’m having a bit of a hard time connecting with her throughout the story and feel much of sympathy for her. It made it a bit hard to really care too much about what is happening. It also feels like the story is building up to something that we don’t really get a satisfying payoff to. Without saying too much, I think that some symbols here could have been used a bit differently as a spark for change.

It’s a decent book but it has some flaws in the story in my opinion. It can also be a bit confusing to read because of the style of writing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is inner and outer dialogue which can be slightly annoying. Recommended for fans of the genre, although there are other novels in the same genre that builds a more complete world. I gave this a 3 out of 5 on Goodreads.