Friday, 30 July 2010
Book review : Afterlight - Alex Scarrow
It's the end of the world as we know it. Ah OK, time to get ready for another post-apocalyptic novel ! I felt that the book actually gets off to a shaky, rather implausible start as an unknown group of people with an unknown agenda simultaneously blow up the world's major oil production plants, leaving the world with no fuel. No oil, no electricity, but also no means of importing food or anything else into Britain. And, it turns out, no governmental contingency plans for this kind of disaster. Everyone's in the lurch and it doesn't take long for the dark side of human nature to take over as people turn on each other, raping, pillaging and looting whenever they can in a desperate bid for survival. In this modern-day Darwinism, it's not so much survival of the fittest but survival of those who have managed to find guns and a food shop that hasn't been totally cleaned-out yet.
Fast-forward ten years and we discover one group of survivors clinging on to life on a decaying off-shore oil rig. Determined to look after her children and refusing to lay down and give up the fight despite the hardships she has had to endure, Jenny Sutherland has built-up a little haven of relative peace, managing to sustain a few hundred people by recycling human waste to not only fertilise the life-giving vegetables they grow but also to harness the methane to produce a small amount of electricity. Not enough to go back to the way things were but enough to lift spirits slightly with a couple of hours of artificial light each day. Surely there has to be more out there ? Surely there have to be other survivors ?
Well, as we discover, there are - but are they friends or foes ? Is the slick-talking evangelist truly offering salvation or is he a self-serving wolf in sheep's clothing ? Does the sole-surviving Safety Zone in the O2 Arena offer a chance for survival or is it just a holding zone for people to slowly starve to death ?
Unlike other post-apocalyptic tales, Afterlight focuses on the struggles of small groups of individuals rather than showing the death and destruction on a global scale. There are allusions to the fact that things are no better elsewhere in the world but we look inwards to the workings of tiny communities, battling to maintain peace and harmony to survive. This modern-day Lord of the Flies shows that the grown-ups don't do any better than the kids as people frequently turn on each other instead of working together.
It's a fast-paced novel which kept me on the edge of my seat. Each chapter switches narrators and location but all the central characters' destinies are intricately intertwined so it's very easy to follow. It's a very realistic novel - scarily so at times as the reader is forced to reflect that this could really happen - so the good guys don't always come out on top and we never know what will happen. Truly good people are thin on the ground so we really get wrapped up in egging them on, hoping that they can beat the odds and survive to live another day.
The world may be in a gloomy state but the positive character traits of the main protagonists - strong family values, determination, perseverance, moral strength in times of hardship - offer a ray of hope that there is still some good in this bad, bad world that just maybe we're heading towards. It's a gripping novel that will keep you thinking about the wider implications long after you've turned the final page.
In writing this review, I discovered that Afterlight is actually the sequel to another novel, Last Light, which relates the chaos - frequently alluded to in this second instalment - of those first panic-stricken, anarchic days of the oil crisis. Although it in no way detracted from my enjoyment to have not read the first book, this possibly explains why I found the opening scenario somewhat flimsy.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £12.99
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Orion (27 May 2010)
Other reviews you may be interested in :
Book review : The Passage - Justin Cronin
Book review : Sleepless - Charlie Huston
The Things That Keep Us Here - Carla Buckley