The Silver Metal Lover by the prolific Tanith Lee was originally published in 1981. It has one sequel, Metallic Love, published about 24 years after the first book. The Silver Metal Lover stands alone well as a complete story, and Metallic Love, which focuses on a different set of characters, actually takes place twelve years after this one. From what I have heard, the second book is not nearly as good as its predecessor, but not having actually read it, I can’t supply my own opinion on the matter. The basic premise of the story is a girl falls in love with a robot but The Silver Metal Lover is much more than that – both a bittersweet romantic tale and a coming of age story told from the perspective of sixteen year old Jane.
Jane is a wealthy teenage girl who has never had to think for herself: she’s perfectly happy to adopt her mother’s opinions as her own. She’s rarely had to make decisions on her own since everything from her ideal hair color to the perfect weight for her body type have been made for her and are regulated through treatments and pills. Her life consists of keeping up with the latest dramas of her “friends” (most of whom she admits she doesn’t even actually like) and pleasing her mother until she hears a singer on the street. When she sees his face, Jane thinks he is beautiful. However, he is not a man but S.I.L.V.E.R., one of the newest creations of Electronic Metals, Ltd., a manufacturer of robots who have a new line of machines that appear to be very human.
As much as Jane tries to forget about this robot, she keeps encountering him and eventually comes to the realization that she is in love with a machine. Although she is rich, Jane does have a monthly cap on her allowance to teach her responsibility and does not have enough money to buy Silver. Her friend Clovis concocts a plan to help Jane get what she wants from their friend Egyptia, who has rented Silver, but this time with the robot is fleeting. In desperation, Jane sells all her possessions and gives up her life of luxury in order to possess her one true love – and in the process, she grows up and learns a lot about herself.
The entire novel is a diary kept by Jane as she tries to resolve her personal issues with her love for the robot Silver and the likelihood of her mother’s disapproval. In the beginning, Jane is exceptionally melodramatic and cries… A LOT. The first time she saw Silver, she cried. When he came over and talked to her, she started crying again. After that, she went to her friend Clovis’s house where she broke down and wept some more. She is also not particularly independent and finds it comforting that her mother is opinionated so she does not have to be. Jane’s identity is very closely tied to her mother in the early part of the novel, as she barely has a thought that is not followed by her pondering what her mother would say about it. These traits do indeed make her somewhat annoying to start with, but she is not a stagnant character. Once Jane begins to realize the truth about herself, she makes a confession to Silver:
“I’m very stupid,” I said, “and very selfish. That’s because I’m rich and I don’t know much about real life. And I’ve been sheltered. And I have a lot of faults.”
This was a real turning point for Jane. Not only does she come to realize some of her flaws, but from this point on, she does grow a lot as a character and becomes much more likable (and less weepy, fortunately).
Throughout the novel both Jane and Silver change as they both become less and less victims of the ways they are supposed to function. Jane loves Silver even though he claims to be a mere machine that is incapable of emotion, a commodity that has been created and programmed to please any human being he is interacting with. Yet mainly because of Silver, Jane discovers who she really is underneath all the ways she personally has been programmed throughout her entire life. Likewise, Silver learns that he is not exactly what he has always believed due to his relationship with Jane.
Lee’s prose is beautifully poignant without being terribly dense, a combination I rarely see. The Silver Metal Lover is a fairly short, easy read, but there are some nicely written moments, such as Jane’s revelation that she is in love with Silver as he walks away from her:
And there was only him. Everything else became a backdrop, and then it went away altogether. And he went away and nothing came back to replace him.
I’ve written this down on paper because I just couldn’t say it aloud to the tape. Tomorrow, my mother will ask what I wanted to discuss with her. But this isn’t for my mother. It’s for some stranger – for you, whoever you are – someone who’ll never read it. Because that’s the only way I could say any of it. I can’t tell Demeta, can I?
He’s a machine, and I’m in love with him.
He’s with Egyptia, and I’m in love with him.
He’s been packed up in a crate, and I’m in love with him.
Mother, I’m in love with a robot…
It is true that Jane is a
bit extremely dramatic sometimes, especially earlier in the book, but I think it’s perfectly fitting and believable for the diary of a teenage girl.
Although this story is touching and sweet at times, it is not all happy. Readers who enjoy neatly tied up happy endings will want to avoid this book. The ending did fail to affect me as much as I really felt it should have, but I think that is because Jane wrote about it after the fact so I had an idea of what was coming from how she opened that section.
Overall, I found this novel very readable and flew through it, but I also felt like it was missing something, partially because it failed to truly sadden me the way I thought it should have. That may have just been because I’ve found I don’t seem to get as emotionally involved in reading a story as I used to (or maybe I just haven’t been reading about the types of characters that I can really sympathize with lately). Once I put it down, I didn’t find myself thinking about it at all until I reread parts of it for writing this review. I actually appreciated it a lot more when I reread parts of it than I did while I was reading it and immediately afterward.
The Silver Metal Lover is a lovely story about love and growing up. As the journal of a sixteen year old in the process of learning about the world, it can be rather full of angst, but Jane does learn about herself and become wiser about herself and the world as she writes about her life and thoughts.