This sounds good, I thought. A post-apocalyptic tale about a man who has to run the length of Britain to find his family. The cover does not look like a Science Fiction book, though, it looks like a ‘literary’ book. More worryingly, when it arrived, it had a sticker on the front cover advertising the ‘BBC Radio 2 Book Club’. My dad used to listen to Radio 2. Technically, I am now in the right age bracket to listen to Radio 2 myself, but do I really want to put myself in that bracket and read that kind of book? Too late. The book was in my possession and I was committed to reading it.
Within a few pages I was hooked.
Edgar Hill is an average, unfit, father-of-two who works in computers and reminded me very much of Tom Cruise’s character in ‘The War Of The Worlds’ (2005). He has no idea what is happening as the Earth is bombarded by thousands of meteorites and takes shelter in the basement with his family and hastily-assembled supplies that include an entirely useless half-bottle of balsamic vinegar. This bottle pretty much sums up the first several chapters as Ed stumbles from despair to disaster and back again, completely out of his depth and clueless. The background, both immediately preceding the disaster and in its aftermath, is peppered with a host of brilliantly conceived characters. Even those with a walk-on part are given enough detail and characterisation to make them real and to give a convincing air to the desolation that is left of Britain.
As the situation develops and the survivors stumble from the wreckage and attempt some kind of recovery, we come eventually to the scenario that leaves Ed in Edinburgh, 550 miles from Cornwall where his family have been evacuated and with a limited time to make the journey. With roads and vehicles mostly destroyed and fuel in short supply, we slowly but surely arrive at the moment that I had been waiting for with baited breath, the moment when The End of the World Running Club is born. The moment is not perhaps how you would imagine it but is, nonetheless, as convincing and cathartic as you would expect.
From then on, the journey across the desolation of England only gets better and better as Ed and his fellow runners encounter survivors individually and in groups, friendly, antagonistic and downright sinister. The range of circumstances, characters and motivations was varied and compelling and I just had to keep reading.
Ed is accompanied on his journey by huge Scottish biker Bryce; Australian pensioner Howard; the enigmatic middle-class Richard and Private Laura Grimes, the only vestige of authority left to them. The interaction between these characters as they travel, the slow and sporadic revelation of details about their lives and the way they individually cope with the disaster and their journey add a wonderful depth and grittiness to this tale. We join Ed in his struggles, self-analysis and reminiscences during a brilliantly written book that portrays the haunting grandeur of this shattered country in a gripping journey across Britain.
Gareth D. Jones
(pub: Del Rey/Ebury Publishing/Random House. 454 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-785032-66-0)
check out website: www.delreyuk.com