What was lost in the collapse; almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. One snowy night n Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again. Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened. If civilisation was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about my favourite dystopian and apocalyptic novels and a number of people contacted me to recommend this read. As this is my favourite genre I hurriedly got a copy and it made its way right to the top of my tbr. I read this book in a day. It was a joy. Even as I write this review I can picture the world and I wish I was still there. I couldn’t put it down but I wish I had so that I could have had more time with th experience of reading it.
The story is pivoted around the character of Arthur Leander who is a famous actor on the night the flu hits. He is on stage performing the role of King Lear in a theatre in Toronto when a medical episode hits him. A trainee paramedic in the audience sees what is happening before anyone else realises and makes for the stage. Despite his best efforts he can not save Arthur who dies on the stage. Stuck in this weird onstage but backstage world the paramedic, Jeevan, finds himself trying to shield one of the young actresses, Kirsten, from the horror of the event. She is only 8. Jeevan has left his girlfriend sitting in the audience and is conscious he needs to get back to her. Eventually he finds his way out off of the stage and finds that there are no audience members left. He walks out into the snow storm that is developing and starts to walk home. He tries to make contact with his girlfriend but she just texts him and asks him to get milk. He ends up heading to his brothers place thinking it is time to break up with her. On his walk he gets a call from his best friend who is an ER doctor and tells him that the Georgian flu has landed in North America and his hospital is overrun with it, the incubation period means that you have about a day to live once its caught. He tells Jeevan to get out of the city.
The chronology of the story cuts between night one of the epidemic and the events that led to it, and twenty years later when 99% of the population have died and the survivors are trying to do more than survive. We meet the main characters, Arthur, his best friend Clark, the actress Kirsten, Arthurs ex wives and his son on the night the flu hits North America.
The story was beautifully plotted and I didn’t think a word was wasted. I found the characters interesting and the story well thought out. The author created an amazing world with her words and there were moments that I was terrified for the characters and when I was scared with them. This is a very gifted writer and I would suggest that she has benefitted from an excellent editorial team as well because this is beautiful. I loved how Shakespeare was a consistent theme through the book and how important music and drama is to the survivors. This isn’t a gory book and because the book skips the first few years after night one you probably don’t get to hear about the truly awful things that happen. By year 20 MOST people are settled and trying to live again. There is a body count though which will please my husband who insists that I only like books with a good body count. This is not true and of course I hate unnecessary violence. And there is violence but it isn’t gratuitous or too descriptive. Just in case you want to give a good bit of apocalyptic fiction a go.
Great book! Winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award, book of the year…. Go get it!