June book of the month
A local friend recently admitted she was suffering from acute Apocalyptitus. Convinced the economic meltdown/terrorist threat/climate change/flu epidemic will swallow up civilisation, she has hunkered down in Suffolk with a couple of pigs and a grow-your-own-veg manual. But it was ever thus: from Noah and his ark, humans have imagined a future beyond disaster. And it's not all dodgy sci-fi movies and animatronic monsters - four literary superstars recently turned their hand to post-apocalyptic fables.
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
Hundreds of people have reviewed this book on Amazon, which goes a little way to show what a strong reaction this author can provoke. Spare, stark prose and plenty of despair, yes. But also gripping, persuasive and unforgettable - and profoundly emotional. The plot follows a father and son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic America (we assume, although it is never specified) as they seek salvation somewhere down the road. The world they encounter will challenge your opinions and provoke questions about what you would do in their shoes. It also taps into the core of human spirit, the will to live and survive.
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
Atwood loves a good fable. Often blending myth and science fiction with realism, she is outrageously imaginative and witty. Shortlisted for both the Orange and the Booker Prize, this novel is a wild adventure into a future where a genetically modified virus has wiped out the entire population apart from a small group of humans who were also genetically modified. A series of flashbacks reveals the events that led up to the apocalypse, and the former lives and loves of the main characters. Brilliantly satirical about current issues such as biocorporations, video games and the internet, Atwood asks: "What if we continue down the road we're already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who's got the will to stop us?"
The Stone Gods - Jeanette Winterson
The inhabitants of Earth need a new place to live - and they think the Blue Planet is just the ticket. Billie, who works in Enhancement, and Spike, a Robo Sapiens, are sent to explore this strange new land, where leaves are as big as cities and birds the size of aeroplanes. As they begin to fall in love, they race through the future, through different stories and wildly inventive. Very playful and full of the usual Winterson energy and fizz, this is also an impassioned plea for a more thoughtful, less self-obsessed world.
The Pesthouse - Jim Crace
A similar plot structure to The Road (two characters on a journey to survive in a devastated country) with rhythmic, poetic prose, full of beautiful detail. Dawn is "at the very moment that the owl became the cock"; the ocean is "one great weeping eye. On clear days, we can see the curve of it". Franklin and Margaret travel through an almost medieval setting, encountering a diverse series of characters. A bit slow to start, but by the middle it takes off and turns into a remarkable love story and a real adventure.
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