Advanced reader copy received from the publisher (John Murray Press) via NetGalley
Release date (UK): 15th January 2015
The idea of this book was intriguing – it’s been compared to Room by Emma Donoghue, which has to be one of my favourites, so I was keen to snap it up on NetGalley. And I enjoyed some parts, but some fell a little flat for me.
Blythe Hallowell is abducted at sixteen years old by her school librarian, Dobbs. He claims the end of the world is imminent, and he is going to stow her away to help him begin a family in the post-apocalyptic future.
“We are the Remnant, Blythe. After the End, you and I will rise up together. You and me – we will one day seed the new world.”
He keeps her in an abandoned silo, fully prepared for end-of-the-world shenanigans for almost 20 years, and start a family they do – with a son called Adam.
The entire story is told in the first person from Blythe’s point of view. In the beginning, she reminisces a lot about her family and friends from before the abduction, and I feel these parts were designed to help us empathise with her character, but I did struggle at times as her family and relationships seemed a little unrealistic for a sixteen year old. However, as time goes on her memories fade and her descent into decay and (temporary) madness, her loss of hope of her family finding her are portrayed quite well.
“I was a girl with hair. Auburn hair. Now colour has gone. Everything fades. Mama’s flushed cheeks, the smutty palette of the evening sky, our yellow clapboard farmhouse.”
Blythe does attempt to break out a number of times, but for years it fails. Until one day, when her son is fifteen, they succeed. And after so long, the real world is both mesmerising and terrifying for Blythe and Adam as the two experience the outside for the first time in so long – “Every inhalation is an assault. Each breath sears the inside of my nose. A memory from light-years ago: Gerhard pushing me into a swimming pool, getting water up my nose. That’s what it’s like to breath fresh air.”
But is the world exactly what Blythe expected, her family waiting with open arms? Or could Dobb’s deranged ramblings about the imminent apocalypse carry some truth?
There’s not a lot that can be said about this book without spoilers, but safe to say things develop a lot in the second half. It is almost like a different novel, but for me the characters of Blythe and Adam – and the two’s close mother-son relationship – had been built well enough that I stayed with them and felt for them. A lot of new characters are introduced, which is a bit of a shock to the system after the feelings of isolation in the first half of the novel, but after a moment to adjust I welcomed it gladly. The two different halves come together for quite a rich, complex novel which does offer something a little unique – if you can get your head around the stark difference between them.
This novel has received a lot of mixed reviews – some mention a subtle Christian influence, which I didn’t notice but now believe is there; other reviewers feel a little let down by the change of plot. But at its heart, I think this novel is about what it means to be free, and how we often don’t appreciate what we’ve got until it’s gone. And, in some places, this novel hits right on the mark.