The Georgia flu pandemic has swept across the globe, killing 9 out of every 10 people. The infrastructure of modern life disintegrates rapidly; electricity shuts down, methods of communication falter and eventually disappear. Highways are jammed with cars as people try to flee the cities, aircraft are forced to divert and land in foreign airports, never to take off again. In the post-apocalyptic world, survivors re-build their lives. Civilisation is re-defined; the wheels of the industrial revolution begin to turn backwards, as people are forced to hunt for food (hence the deer on the cover of my copy), cook over open fires and travel on foot.
Shakespeare has survived the collapse. He is kept alive by the Travelling Symphony, an itinerant troupe of musicians and actors which continues to perform his plays. Kirsten is one of the company; she was eight years old when the pandemic struck and the resultant trauma has led to her losing a year’s worth of memories. But she is linked to the past. A paperweight, a comic strip book and a dog named Luli are amongst the things which author Emily St. John Mantel uses to weave a constant thread through the years before and after the collapse.
This book awakened something in me which usually lies dormant. My imagination. I became totally immersed in that Narnia, Magic Faraway Tree, Claudine at St Clares way, like reading was when I was a child. It is a state of mind that I rarely achieve when reading fiction these days, and I was totally absorbed. I could see it all; Arthur and his loaded shopping trolleys, the ‘quarantined’ Air Gradia jet, the Museum of Civilisation. The characters felt real and I cared about what happened to them. The construction of the plot is skilful, the author unveils clues which form part of the pleasing whole, rather like slotting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. One piece in isolation doesn’t make sense, it takes its meaning from the context and pattern of the whole scenario.
My edition of the novel came with ‘discussion questions’ at the back, but I didn’t need to have my thinking directed by preset lines of enquiry. This book left my mind ranging across all manner of dilemnas and ‘what ifs’. Even if you think post-apocalyptic fiction is not your thing, I urge you to give this book a chance!