I have been on hiatus from this blog for the most part in the final year of my degree. This does not mean I haven't been reading. I have read the entire Game of Thrones series thus far (RECOMMEND), since Christmas, as well as Room by Emma Donoghue (RECOMMEND), The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (RECOMMEND), the entire Divergent series by Veronica Roth (very mediocre) as well as some graphic novels (Maus, Watchmen and Persepolis). Now, with my dissertation handed in I am back. In my dissertation I wrote about the potential for female heroism and assessed some heroic female characters in dystopian literature. So I am back to ramble a bit about a dystopian book I've just finished.
It is called the Man Who Watched the World End and is a 2013 novel by Chris Dietzel. It is bleak, not unlike Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and tricky to read especially towards the end (both because it can feel slightly repetitive but there is also a horrifying twist). It is comprised of diary entries by an elderly man, the last of his neighbourhood who has gradually watched the world of humans and civilization fade away. This occurs not through spectacular explosions or alien invasions but a simple mis-evolution or de-evolution - with generations of babies being born with 'no significant brain activity'. They are referred to as 'Blocks' because it 'was as if their condition obstructed them from the world' (10-12). They cannot reproduce, or do anything at all, but they are alive and so the kind-hearted around them become their carers, as the narrator does for his slightly younger brother.
'So we, the fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters of the afflicted, took care of them and raised them as the otherwise normal people they were, all the while realising this new generation we were taking care of wouldn't be able to produce offspring. And even if they could, they wouldn't be able to raise them' 12
'These silent masses will continue to age until the last generation of regular adults gets too old to take care of them, and then everyone will just fade away.' 16
In his diary entries the man describes his day to day life, complicated by previously domestic animals becoming feral as well as the bears and wolves that populate the area already, as the final man in the neighbourhood while everyone else migrates south. He talks to and cares for his unresponsive Block brother and recalls bits of his life, the transition from normality to the dissolution of human society. There are lots of poignant reflections on the human condition, how everything that once mattered gradually stopped mattering at all and the mystery over why his previously friendly neighbours left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.
When it comes, even though it takes its time, the reveal of the mystery behind the neighbours is devastating and deeply affecting but tragically and shockingly believable - a true moment of dystopia. Although it was hard to read it gave the book much more impact and gravity, raising it from its slightly monotonous pace thus far. It's an interesting book, I think there are points you just need to plough through but for anyone interested in bleak, realist dystopia this is worth a try.
'No one could understand how a species could change itself in a way that prevented its own survival. It defied nature.' 16
'I take care of him but that doesn't define his life or my own. When you go without many people to talk to, you start forgetting what you really feel. You find yourself hoping someone else can remind you of who you used to be and who you're becoming. Maybe this diary will do that for me now.' 77
On apocalyptic movies and their underlying idealism:
'How difficult it must have been for the people writing these movies to think of a time when humans wouldn't exist at all. Even in the far corners of their creative, inspired minds, they couldn't think of a scenario where every man was wiped out, just most of them. There always had to be a survivor. Maybe this simply spoke to the optimism of the men writing those screenplays; even with an uncomfortable sci-fi plot they had to subconsciously comfort themselves by thinking that at least a hundred people would survive. Someone has to survive.' 87