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Blue Ticket: A Novel

Blue Ticket: A Novel

by Sophie Mackintosh

Narrated by Freya Mavor

Unabridged — 7 hours, 48 minutes

Sophie Mackintosh

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From the author of the Man Booker Prize longlisted novel The Water Cure ("ingenious and incendiary"–The New Yorker) comes another mesmerizing, refracted vision of our society: What if the life you're given is the wrong one?

Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you marriage and children. A blue ticket grants you a career and freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And once you've taken your ticket, there is no going back. But what if the life you're given is the wrong one?

When Calla, a blue ticket woman, begins to question her fate, she must go on the run. But her survival will be dependent on the very qualities the lottery has taught her to question in herself and on the other women the system has pitted against her. Pregnant and desperate, Calla must contend with whether or not the lottery knows her better than she knows herself and what that might mean for her child.

An urgent inquiry into free will, social expectation, and the fraught space of motherhood, Blue Ticket is electrifying in its raw evocation of desire and riveting in its undeniable familiarity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Mackintosh’s haunting, dystopian tale (after The Water Cure) explores the emotional fallout of forced birth control in a near-future society. Once girls begin to menstruate, they go to a lottery clinic and draw a ticket. White means they must bear children; blue means they must use birth control. Calla draws a blue ticket at age 14, and as she becomes a woman, she happily explores her untethered sexual freedom. When she reaches her 30s, she begins wanting a child. Despite her fears that the blue ticket means she is unsuited for motherhood (“Failure to nurture,” she imagines a doctor writing on her chart), Calla nevertheless manages to remove her birth control device and becomes pregnant. After her doctor says she must have an abortion, she goes on the run. Calla meets fellow rebel Marisol, and the two women become lovers while holed up in a deserted cabin, determined to give birth before they’re caught by the authorities. Mackintosh serves up vivid details of Calla’s psychological ordeal in the language of body horror (“I was the chicken I opened up one day only to discover that the stomach had been left in by mistake”), and convincingly conveys Calla’s and Marisol’s desperation. This tense, visionary drama is a notable addition to the growing body of patriarchal dystopias. (June)

From the Publisher

"[Mackintosh's] style is spare but thoughtful. Every detail enhances the plot and the atmosphere at once...Sophie Mackintosh lays bare many of the fears and realities that face any society’s women as they contemplate when their choices begin, and where they might end."—BOSTON GLOBE

"The cool intensity and strange beauty of Blue Ticket is a wonder - be sure to read everything Sophie Mackintosh writes."DEBORAH LEVY, author of HOT MILK and THE MAN WHO SAW EVERYTHING

"In this dark fable...Mackintosh sensitively conveys resonant questions about motherhood, female solidarity, queer love, and bodily autonomy."—THE NEW YORKER

"[Blue Ticket] is no less relevant or incisive for its intimacy. It is as much about the tension between independence and obligation, between desire and capability, as it is about contemporary womanhood: under constant threat just for having a body, and longing to decide your own fate."—NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"The breakout author of The Water Cure returns with another chilling speculative fiction...[Calla's] harrowing journey to take charge of her own future wrestles with timely, thought-provoking questions of fate, free will, and bodily autonomy."—ESQUIRE (The 20 Must-Read Books of the Summer)

"Mackintosh’s second novel is even more hallucinatory and spiraled than her first...[Blue Ticket is] terrifying and enchanting in equal measure."LITHUB (The Best New Books to Read This Summer)
"Told with ragged prose that catches the breath, Calla's journey articulates the irrepressible desires and wounds that can lie deep within, and is marked by a claustrophobia that never stops pressing in from the margins. This unsettling reimagining of the anxieties and pressures around motherhood lays bare the alienation that comes when your body is not truly yours."—THE IRISH NEWS

"Strange and luminous, beautifully spare and precise: Sophie Mackintosh constructs her disturbing premise with such skill that I found myself forgetting that the world of Blue Ticket is not (quite) our own. A thrilling and nuanced exploration of what it means to follow one’s own longing to the point of destruction and beyond"ROSIE PRICE, author of WHAT RED WAS

Blue Ticket manages to be both claustrophobic and expansive, dream-like and heart-stoppingly tense. Lushly textured and stunningly written, you will want to languish in its world for a very long time” LARA WILLIAMS, author of SUPPER CLUB

"Utterly exquisite - clever and brilliant and heartbreaking. From the dusty road to the salving forest, I absolutely adored it."—EMMA JANE UNSWORTH, author of ADULTS and ANIMALS

"In her thought-provoking novel about fate, control, and biology, Mackintosh keeps the reader turning pages as Calla’s due date approaches. A must for Handmaid’s Tale aficionados."—BOOKLIST *STARRED REVIEW*

"Mackintosh’s haunting, dystopian tale explores the emotional fallout of forced birth control in a near-future society . . . [A] tense, visionary drama."—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Praise for Sophie Mackintosh and The Water Cure:

"A gripping, sinister fable!"MARGARET ATWOOD, via Twitter

"Darkly gratifying, primal and arresting...ingenious and incendiary"—NEW YORKER 

"An extraordinary otherworldly debut... [Mackintosh] is writing the way that Sofia Coppola would shoot the end of the world: Everything is luminous."THE GUARDIAN

"Sensational...Mackintosh's taut novel turns a keen, unsparing eye on violence, patriarchy, and desire."ESQUIRE

 "[A] chilling, beautifully written novel...the tautness and tension of the writing are staggering."Judges Panel Citation, MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018

"I loved this book. It rushes you through to the end on a tide of tension and closely held panic. Eerie, beautiful, electric."DAISY JOHNSON, author of EVERYTHING UNDER

"Sophie Mackintosh casts an exquisite, irresistible spell..."

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-05-04
A young woman undermines the state-controlled system that determines motherhood to near-disastrous effect in this chilling follow-up to The Water Cure.

In early puberty, Calla's father takes her to a lottery station, where she chooses a blue ticket from a mysterious machine. Once her fate is determined, Calla must make her way to a city, alone and on foot. If she manages to avoid the roving packs of boys and men who prowl the woods and roadways, Calla will start her adult life as a "blue ticket." In the city, Calla is outfitted with a copper IUD and expected to contribute to society solely through her position as a chemist in a laboratory. "Blue ticket: I was not motherly," Calla thinks. "It had been judged that it wasn't for me by someone who knew better than I did." Her days are filled with work and visits to the combative Doctor A, who monitors blue tickets like Calla. Her evenings are filled with drinking and casual sex. Soon, however, Calla can't resist the pull of the "new and dark feeling" inside her, a "strange, ravaging ghost." Coveting the forbidden lives of the few women who bear white tickets, she removes the IUD on her own using tweezers and enough booze to numb the blinding pain. When Doctor A discovers Calla’s inevitable pregnancy, she's cast out of her house and once again left to fend for herself. Mackintosh renders Calla's internal struggle with deft, lyric precision. What is it about Calla the state determined unmotherly? How will she care for a child without the protection of a family or community? Can she trust the other women she meets on the road, who have also decided to take their fates into their own hands? Like Sarah Hall in Daughters of the North or Leni Zumas in Red Clocks, Mackintosh brings a new sense of pathos to the dystopian novel. Late in the book, Mackintosh reveals that Calla, like other women in her country, has little to no medical knowledge about her own body, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. They're shocked to learn about the placenta, for example, and have no instinct for how to hold a baby. This detail transforms Calla's haunting quest to become a mother into a heartbreaking bid for self-determination, self-worth, and self-knowledge—no matter the cost.

A moving and original meditation on freedom, fate, and women's rage.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940179017318
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt



It began with the allocating of luck, our bodies pinballs inside a machine. It was the year of overlapping adolescences, when the girls started to faint and grow tall.

When I went to see my doctor at the clinic, the part of the wall where she measured our heights was dotted everywhere, as if with the eggs of flies. Mine was lost in there with the rest of them. Straighter, straighter, she said. Rapped my knuckles with a ruler. Look up! What do you see?

Just the dust gathering on the wallpaper of your ceiling, Doctor, I didn’t say. She made notes on my body. I nibbled at the edges of my own skin. She wrapped sheets of gauze around my raw thumbs. Stop chewing on yourself, she said, and wrote down something which might have been Failure to nurture.

My father bought me a wiry grey dog when I turned eleven, for my heart. Run faster! I shouted at him when he couldn’t keep up with me. This was love.

Cool light, spiders erupting from their silver webs inside my window frame. Out there, somewhere, was destiny. The dog and I were running towards it together. I liked to bury my face into his peppery fur, though I think I was allergic. It is possible that love was making me sick all along.


Drink a lot of milk if you want to speed it up, the knowing girls told us in the bathroom, between classes, as we massaged balm into our chapped lips. It hadn’t happened to them yet but they had been able to find things out. Eat fats and oils, they said. We switched all the taps on and then we left for our lessons.

At dinner I took a spoonful of butter and ate it neatly. My father watched me and didn’t say anything. I took another. Licked the spoon.

Be careful in your wanting was a slogan written on the wall of the clinic. I must have read it five hundred times over the course of that one year alone. My legs swinging back and forth on the orange plastic chair of the waiting room.

Girls left one by one throughout the term. No goodbye parties, no notes. By the time it was my turn, barely anybody remained. It was me and two other girls and the boys my age in the classroom, pushing our pencils across paper as we multiplied and subtracted and memorized underneath the sun’s passage.

I felt no great fidelity to the concept of free will. At fourteen I had been awaiting the future for months. I sat for hours on the yellow tiles of my father’s bathroom with my knees drawn up to my chest, as if I could compel my body onwards with the force of my thoughts. I couldn’t rejoice in anything, except that each event brought me nearer to adulthood, the clear and shining horizon of it. It was as if we had to swim through mud to get there, an estuary barrier to us reaching the ocean. Get through this, I wrote on the back of my school notebook. Private mantra. I felt very advanced to have made such peace with myself. I knew nothing, obviously.

All of this I spoke about to Doctor J, a harried pale woman, owner of the marked wall. Our growing brains were stored on tapes in her filing cabinet, which held a psychic onslaught of numberless teenage girls waiting to be sifted.

What is your mind doing lately? she used to ask me, and I would say the same thing every time, which was It’s not doing anything at all, which was also often the truth. I slept deeply and walked in the forest with my father’s gun after school, looking for the shivering bodies of rabbits, though I never fired it when I was alone. I became sentimental about pine cones and poetry, and swam my prescribed laps at the leisure centre with the other girls my age, walking home along the grey country road bordered with greenery.

As the year drew on, long red marks welted my thighs, mysteriously. Skin stretching, the doctor said. You’ll be tall. At the time I didn’t believe her. On slow days, I prayed for my bleed to come. Prayed to nature to make it happen, to the wet grass and the sky. My mother’s locket waited for me in my father’s sock drawer. It wasn’t locked away, but it was empty. My mother was buried in the grey cemetery outside of town. Her ticket might have been buried with her. I didn’t ask.

My father took me to a restaurant. It was my first time playing at adulthood, and I didn’t do a good job of it. Cracked, hollow bread rolls; I ate three of them very quickly. I saw the sad mushrooms in the carbonara as snails, and then could not eat those. Tender heart, my father called me then. He was a little angry. We had wine and I drank a splash big enough to coat the glass, but no more. It made my tongue feel lively. My father showed me how to swill the wine around and what the tidemarks told you. Like reading tea leaves, he said. I have looked into the wine and seen the future. It lives at the bottom of the bottle.

When all the wine was gone he lifted up the empty bottle and held it to his eye like a telescope. See? He laughed, but I did not ask what the future held.

She would have wanted you to pick a blue ticket, he said to me as we waited for the bill, but he did not elaborate. I did not want to seem stupid and ask, so instead I nodded. It was only trying to fall asleep, later on, that I realized what he had been telling me about my mother.

He was young to be a father. At the weekends, his friends came round to the house and drank beer and watched me. They played cards but not games that I recognized. One two, one two, they chanted as they threw the cards down. Another beer. I lay on my stomach in the dark in the hall, where they could not see me. I wanted to watch and not to be watched. It was fundamental to my desire. You do not understand that at fourteen. But I can understand it now.

In the cinema, later in the year, my fingertips slid around inside a bucket of popcorn. A boy sat next to me. I felt him put his hand out to me as if he were swimming. The hand moved up and down in the air until it reached my body. Hand found my shoulder, my chest. I let it rest there, peacefully. The film ended. The hand lifted. The boy left before I could look.

At school, the girls’ bathroom was almost always empty, by then. Nobody left the taps running.

One day the grey dog became fat and even slower. It turned out she was a girl. She lay down and small blind things came out of her, pink and bleating, like hearts. My father did something with them. Set them into the wilderness, or gave them new homes. I chose to believe this.

It was the dog I thought about years later, when I looked down at my stomach, and there it was. Undeniable. I, too, would be slow. I, too, would lie down upon the ground. Cold ground. Blue morning.

You should have touched them, said the last girl at school apart from me. You would have been their mother. They would recognize your scent, and your scent only. A sad, streak‑of‑water girl, with unnerving pale eyes. I didn’t like to think I was her sort, but here I was. Here we were. She placed a sandwich, carefully, inside her mouth. In my room at home I sniffed at my armpits, just to see. It seemed unidentifiable. It seemed like anyone else’s stink. Nothing that anything would call home.


One day, finally, there was a red slick in my underwear. In the shower I washed my body with care, unfamiliar blood spooling thinly down my legs. A clot of dark jelly fell out of me. I felt, calmly, that perhaps I would die. Instead I put on the dress that had been hanging on my bedroom door for the past year; pink satin, sprigged with white flowers at the hem and neckline, a petticoat underneath that scratched at my knees. It smelled of the damp, of the accumulated sweetness of the cheap perfume that I sprayed dutifully on my body every day. I went and twirled in front of my father, who fetched the locket and gave it to me. Don’t put it on yet, he said.

We got a taxi because it was a special occasion, although it was a long way; through the hulking shape of the nearest town, back out into the outskirts, past wooden houses like ours. The taxi driver had a plastic ice cream box with foil-wrapped chocolate hearts. Take two! he insisted, then put the box back under his seat.

Pretty girl, he said to my father, who said Watch it, smiling but not smiling, and then the two of them were silent for the rest of the journey. The hearts contained dark cherries. I folded both pieces of foil into one speck and pushed it into the gap between my seat and the door.

The lottery station was a lot like the clinic: two storeys of pale brick, a flat roof. When we pulled up, the emissary outside was smoking a cigarette, but he threw it into the road when he saw us. Congratulations, he said to me. He led us inside to where the others waited.

The floorboards were wooden, varnished aggressively. Countless feet had scuffed that floor. It pooled the reflections of all the lights—spotlights from the ceiling, a lamp on the desk where a man in a dark suit sat on an orange plastic chair, watching us, legs crossed. He could have been a doctor, but he wore no white coat, no white plastic gloves. There were four other girls in their own dresses sitting in a row on a wooden bench, flowers both real and fake pinned to chests. They were not the girls from my school. One wore velvet, two wore tulle, and the other wore satin like me. I took a shine to the girl in satin. Same species.

We lined up, waiting to pull our tickets from the machine, the way you would take your number at the butcher’s counter. The music popular that year played from speakers on the ceiling. Just gravity enough. Just ceremony enough. Not necessarily such an important thing, after all.

My name was called first. They watched me as I walked the length of the room, towards the machine inside its cloaked box. I put my hand in it. I was apprehensive but ready for my life to be decided. I closed my eyes and thought about my father with the wine bottle to his eye. The machine was silent as it discharged a sliver of hard paper into my hand. It was a deep cobalt. Congratulations, the possible doctor in the dark suit said to me.

The other girls followed, each taking their own ticket from the machine in turn. Almost a full house! he exclaimed at the end, reading a piece of paper spat out from the machine. We huddled and compared tickets. They were all blue, except for one, which was white. The girl with the white ticket was escorted into a separate room by the doctor and another emissary. We watched the three of them walk through an unlit doorway. When the doctor came back he clapped his hands twice. You have been spared, he said with a terrible benevolence.

At the desk, the emissary who had been on the door wrote down the results, to communicate to homes, to clinics, to places distant and important that we did not know about. One by one we were called into another room, a different room to the girl who had pulled the white ticket. I lay on a reclining bed with a crisp paper cover, and another doctor, this one a woman and comforting, almost, in the familiar white coat, told me to fold up my knees. She pushed something inside me that hurt, a sharp and spidering pain. What is it? I asked, and she said, Your doctor will explain it all when you get to wherever you’re going. She said when and not if, and I was grateful for that. Behind me I left a large rose of blood on the paper.

The bathroom of the lottery house was filled with yellow light, the veins of my thin neck standing out underneath it. I was a plucked chicken with badly applied eyeshadow, but the locket was around my throat now. There was a long, low mirror above the sink, a wicker chair in the corner and two bathroom stalls painted peach. In the mirror I watched the other girls leaning against the wall. Toes flexing. Eyes raised to the ceiling, moving to the door when the girl with the white ticket came in to join us, then back to the ceiling. There was a dying flower arrangement at the corner of the sink, gaps of oasis showing through pink carnations. The music came through in here too, speakers in the ceiling or underneath the sink.

At first I kept looking at the girl who had drawn the white ticket, the other girl in satin, though hers was pale blue and dirty at the hem where it dragged. Her eyes were red. I had the urge to take her arm and run with her somewhere, out to the woodland where I used to smoke with the other girls in my class between lessons, beyond the broken barbed wire of the school perimeter where the teachers could not see us. But I did not touch her; I made myself stop looking.

Inside the cubicle I spent some time reading the names and dates scratched on the door. With the safety pin that held on my fake peony corsage I engraved Calla, Blue Ticket, a smiley face and the date underneath. The swell of relief, smooth and natural as a muscle. I would never have children. And I was glad. I had been a child myself, not so long ago. I did not want to put any other puny creature through that.

I went with the rest of the girls back to the lottery room, where our parents stood lined up. There was a table with pots of tea and coffee, biscuits and thin sandwiches on china plates, packets of tissues. The doctor who had supervised the whole thing stood in front of the parents, as if we had interrupted them mid-address. Maybe we had. The mothers smiled. The fathers looked grim.

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