Seeing this post-apocalyptic tale compared to Station Eleven (which I really didn’t like!), I had some trepidation going in. I shouldn’t have worried, though, as A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World is a wholly different beast, and I loved it!
Book: A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent by Orbit free of charge. All opinions my own.
From the very first page, I was gripped by the narrator’s voice. Griz has an incredible balance of naivety and maturity, brought about by growing up in a world where he’s never seen met more than a dozen people. Life after the apocalypse has been hard, and in places traumatic, but it has its pleasures, too. Griz is straight-talking and practical, and addresses many of his thoughts to ‘you’ – not the reader, but a girl in a photograph he found in an abandoned house. One of our contemporaries, a girl from before the world ended. She could easily be us, and Griz’s musings to her about what life was like ‘back then’, before the apocalypse, hit hard and true. It’s a tricky perspective to maintain, but it’s done so seamlessly that Griz feels incredibly real. The voice is just stunning, and kept me compelled til the very end of the book, and beyond. I just can’t stop thinking about it.
The apocalypse world-building here is fascinating too. Griz refers to it as a ‘soft apocalypse’, as humans gradually died out as a result of their fertility malfunctioning, rather than a cataclysmic event wiping out anything in particular. Only a few humans remained fertile, so there are tiny pockets of families dotted about, but most of the world is uninhabited. It means that the entire world is a slowly-decaying ruin, but nothing has been destroyed – houses still stand, as do rollercoasters and opera houses, but nature has overtaken them, and as a fan of urban decay photography, I found some of the settings absolutely (if sadly) beautiful. Griz also comments a couple of times about how much plastic has built up in the oceans; there’s no doubt that this is an eerily accurate picture of how our world could be if we don’t take steps now. It’s not eco-fiction as such, but it’s a clever reminder of the state of things. I also really liked how different groups reacted to their impending doom – there were groups who tried to leave things as neatly and sustainably as possible, and those who thought ‘stuff it’ and used up resources with wild abandon with no regard for those who might survive.
World-building aside, this is a quest at its heart. A man shows up to Griz’s Hebridean island, spends the night with his family, and steals one of his dogs (the female one; fertile bitches are hard to find, apparently). Griz and his other dog chase after the thief across the sea, and then across the remains of the UK. It’s a journey book, and as with the voice, a delicate balance is struck perfectly between Griz’s quiet, thoughtful exploration of the ruined world, and the dramatic encounters with the hazards he finds along the way. Wolves are a problem, as is the lack of working technology – travel is hard, and staying alive is harder. Griz only knows what he could glean from books, and with so much information having been stored digitally, and now lost, there are vast gaps in his knowledge. Oh, did I love watching him finding new books! It’s fascinating to watch him pick his way across the country. His determination, resilience and inventiveness make you really root for him.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so there’s a lot I can’t talk about that I also loved about this book. It’s honestly just one of the most intelligent books I’ve read in a long time. It’s thought-provoking, but not in a try-hard way – it’s always story first, world-building creeping in at the edges – and it made me cry in two different places. It rings very true, and it’s astonishingly good.
Oh, and one last note – this book is what I call Judith-safe: no dogs die. It’s not that kind of story.
Five out of five cats!