That is the premise of Rupert Thomson's dystopian novel "Divided Kingdom". Set in the United Kingdom, a group of unseen, unknown `powers that be' have determined that British society is decaying. Hopelessness, despair, and dysfunction are the hallmarks of the political and economic life of a once great nation. The solution: take Great Britain and divide it into four mini-Britains each separated from the other by a wall similar to the one that used to divide Berlin. People are not permitted to travel from one section to the next. The key to this subdivision of Britain is the "great rearrangement".
Each mini-Britain will be segregated by personality type. Every citizen is assessed and assigned to one of four personality types based on the ancient concept of the four humors: Choleric (yellow), melancholic (green), phlegmatic (blue) and sanguine (red). `Sanguine' people, who are optimistic and even-tempered, must reside in the Red Quarter. `Phlegmatics' are passive and compassionate and tend to let life carry them along like a leaf floating on a stream. They are assigned to the Blue Quarter. `Cholerics' are aggressive, Type-A people assigned to live in the Yellow Quarter, `Melancholics' are introspective and pessimistic, and must live in the Green Quarter. The great rearrangement is planned under great secrecy and the people of Britain wake up one morning to see that the military is supervising the forced shipment of every citizen to their assigned quarter.
As the story opens eight-year old protagonist, Thomas Parry, is snatched from his parents home and placed in a school pending his transfer to the red section. Thomas is placed with a family whose wife/mother has been forcibly sent to another quarter. Thomas adjusts well, on the surface at least, to the great rearrangement. He eventually becomes a trusted government employee and is asked to cross the border to attend a multilateral conference attended by all four groups. It is a rare privilege for Thomas to cross the border. It is only after he arrives that all the angst that Thomas had kept buried inside begins to come to the fore. Thomas receives an invitation to a strange, exotic club and the club unleashes such powerful, unfathomable forces within Thomas that he drops everything and embarks on a journey that takes him across the four kingdoms.
Thomas' journey is a journey of self-examination. However, Thomson does a great job providing something of a travelogue through each of the four kingdoms. Thomson does a great job fleshing out Thomas' character. However, given the large cast of characters who Thomas encounters those secondary characters do tend to have a somewhat superficial portrayal. The fact that these characters tend to live up to their personality assignment does make their portrayal seem logical within the confines of the book.
The book's concept is an excellent one and the plot is both original and entertaining. The plot allows Thomson and the reader the opportunity to explore the role of the individual's role in society, the role of the family, and the individual's concept of self and sense of affiliation with the community around him. Thomson's dystopian vision has its roots in Aldous Huxley's "BRAVE NEW WORLD" and also Yevgeny Zamyatin's "WE".
"Divided Kingdom" does have some flaws (in my opinion). At one point some of the characters exhibit some almost supernatural powers. One character seems to be able to render her invisible. I found this to be a bit of a distraction and came across as an easy way to get Thomas and the other character across a border. Ultimately this is not a major problem but it left me seeing those books as being somewhat separate from the story as a whole. However, this quibble should not detract from Thomson's well-executed prose. It is concise and adheres successfully to the less-is-more school of fiction. Thomson does not bludgeon the reader with conclusions or answers. Rather, he tells a story in a fairly minimalist style and leaves the rest to the thought processes of his readers.
All in all "Divided Kingdom" is an entertaining, thought provoking book. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig