Received from Headline Review through Book Geeks
It has been nine years since the flu wiped out most of humanity, nine years since Hig lost his wife and unborn baby. Ever since then Hig has been living in a hangar on a small abandoned airport with only his old dog Jasper for company. He shares the airport compound with Bangley, a gun-tooting tough guy who lives by a “shoot first ask questions later” motto and scares Hig a little. The two men depend on each other but Hig is never comfortable in Bangley’s presence and Bangley appears to tolerate Hig because of his usefulness.
“I have the plane, I am the eyes, he has the guns, he is the muscle. He knows, I know he knows: he can’t fly. I don’t have the stomach for killing. Any other way, probably just be one of us. Or none.”
But also: “We really have become like a married couple.”
There are very few humans left and even fewer who are healthy, the earth is heating up and a lot of animals have disappeared and/or died-out.
Between the two of them Bangley and Hig have devised a system to secure their surroundings and keep themselves safe. While Bangley keeps an eye on one side of their compound from his house, Hig surveys the area further out in his beloved Cessna aeroplane. His regular flights also give Hig the opportunity to visit a Mennonite community near by. With most if not all of the members ill, the Mennonites need all the help they can get and while Hig makes sure to keep his distance he can’t ignore the families there.
During one of his flights, three years earlier, Hig received a message from someone at an airport just out of his range. Flying out of fuel range to follow a disembodied voice belonging to a stranger who may or may not be ill or dead would be madness and Hig tries to put the experience out of his mind. But every now and again the radio exchange resurfaces in his thoughts and the what-ifs make him wonder.
When what should have been a routine fishing and hunting trip leaves Hig devastated and rattled he does leave behind his relatively secure surroundings in order to explore the voice he heard years ago. What follows is frightening, fascinating, uplifting and not at all what Hig expected when he flew off.
This is not a run-of-the-mill work of fiction.
The story is imaginative; dark, funny, deeply sad and uplifting.
It isn’t told in Standard English either.
The story is told by Hig, the main character, and the language he uses ignores most grammatical rules. As can be seen in the two quotes above, the narrator goes out of his way to use the minimal amount of words absolutely necessary to say what he has to say. In the context of the story this actually makes a lot of sense. A man living with a dog and one other, not very communicative, man probably does start speaking, thinking and writing in a shorter, more efficient way. For me, as a reader, it made the book a bit hard to read at times. The words didn’t flow naturally; I found myself having to re-read sentences and paragraphs, sometimes more than once just to be sure I understood what I was reading. Having said that, the sentence structure (or lack thereof) did become easier as I got further into the book and more used to it and the consistency with which it was applied was admirable.
The dystopian world described in this book is shockingly realistic. The loneliness, the constant sense of loss and the ever present danger were palatable and made this a tense read. The fact that all the tension was interspersed with mundane worries and domestic descriptions made the story all the more realistic and therefore more hard-hitting.
This story manages to blend a bleak and violent world with small acts of charity. This is Cormac McCarthy’s “Road” with a sense of hope. This is indeed the end of the world as we know it, but not necessarily the end of humanity.
In short, this is a fascinating, highly original and ultimately uplifting description of the human ability to survive.