Thursday, 7 July 2011

Book #58 Then by Julie Myerson


I've been trying to decide why there has been a recent glut of novels and films or TV shows which depict post apocalyptic scenarios. I wonder if it is because society, having left the Cold War era behind is not living with a significant reality of this kind of disaster and therefore can fearlessly explore it as a fiction, or  whether we do live in uncertain times, and novels such as these seek to exhibit and explore our fear.

It is true that the human race faces many potential threats to its survival: Will we experience alien invasion, and if we did would it be hostile? Will an unusual illness like SARS or H1N1 become an incurable global pandemic? Will a terrorist attack plunge a nation or the world into the Dark Ages?
And then of course, there's our old friend The Zombie Apocalypse, which I discussed in my review of Justin Cronin's The Passage.

In Julie Myerson's 'Then', the event which causes widespread chaos is not made clear, potentially it's an environmental disaster of the type shown in the 2004 film 'The Day After Tomorrow' and potentially it's a nuclear winter. What is known is that one day it got very hot in February, too hot, and too bright, and then things went dark and it began to snow.

Myerson's novel is unusual in that it doesn't really focus on the disaster or on multiple survivors, just really upon one female survivor whose name we don't learn until nearly the end of the book. She has sought refuge in an office block with a handful of others, but she cannot remember who she is, or why she's there. Though her companions tell her things, she forgets again, and exists in a confused fog, seeing things that aren't always there.

'Then' is a classic case of the use of an unreliable narrator; because she can't remember her own past and questions the reality of her current experience, we cannot trust her perspective. The narrative is muddled, but deliberately so, so that you realistically experience her personal sense of confusion, though this is frustrating at times. Even near the end I was unsure about whether certain characters were real or merely figments of a broken mind.

The plot takes us backwards beginning at her current location and revealing how she got there to start with, but whilst the end has good shock value and explains her current mental fragility I questioned its plausibility. Though good techniques are shown by Myerson, I felt that there was just so much more to an event like this than one woman's plight, though I suppose that in itself is the novels Unique Selling Point.

It's not hard to read and it is "a bit different" but I thought it was good not great 7/10

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