Saturday, June 11, 2011

Far North, Marcel Theroux

Far North is another post-apocalyptic novel that focussed on life after *it* happens, *it* in this case is some kind of environmental/economic/social collapse.  Our narrator, Makepeace, is the last "constable" of a dead city in the wastes of Siberia, a city/town that had been settled as an escape from society by (apparently) mostly Westerners. Makepeace is alone, other than random travellers passing through.  The book tells of Makepeace's life and travels, searching for others (or the dream of what others would be like).

I really enjoyed the first part of this book, it was gripping, sensitively told, harsh, but intriguing.  Unfortunately, after this first section, it seemed like a different book.  Makepeace decides to leave the city, and journey in search of others.  The strange things that happen, and the pretty much utter hopelessness of the few humans who remain sat oddly against the basic humanity/goodness of the narrator.  It was as if everyone else became souless, cruel, and capable of anything.  Sure, I'm sure some people would be like this, and telling these stories is part of what makes post-apocalyptic and dystopia literature fascinating.  But, everyone?  The book becomes an unremitting tale of horribleness and tragedy.

And [spoilers] some of it was just unbelievable.  I simply didn't get the whole "prisoner" (really, slaves) camp deal.  The narrator was so matter-of-fact about it, it was almost literally "and then I lived in the prison camp for 5 years."  Oh, okay then.  I also don't believe that a woman could live for five years with the dire scum of humanity as described and not get raped.  Sorry.  Even if she had a knife. 

The whole issue of slavery, including that some people had apparently "volunteered" for slavery was not dealt with sufficiently.  It's a big deal, one that wasn't extended or explored.  Elements of the characters were unbelievable.  One of the slaves was (supposedly) a surgeon before the collapse.  Really?  Why didn't he just tell someone and bargain his way out?  Why were none of those essential skills not regarded as relevant or worthy of trade? I can't imagine a post-collapse society that wouldn't highly value a doctor (!!).  The book was littered with this kind of incongruity.  Like, what happened to everyone?  Why did everyone just disappear?  Didn't the narrator have any friends?  Where did they go?  How did they die? 

The treatment of the indigenous peoples in the novel was also problematic.  It was made clear that the settlers in the narrator's city weren't Russian (the city is in Siberia), or native to the region.  It seemed they mostly came from America.  The local indigenous people, all of whom seem to be living quite alright thanks very much, despite the collapse of "civilisation", are portrayed as drunk, violent, and don't even figure on the narrator's radar, other than a very occasional source of trade.  Even given that poor portrayal, the narrator's lack of interest in them is just odd.  If you were the only person alive in a city, and there was a perfectly functional community near you, wouldn't you be interested in them?  In making ties to them, trading, learning things?  Joining them??

Gender was the other main issue with the book.  Sure, for the first few chapters Theroux is playing with gender and identity, and we're supposed to be suitably surprised when Makepeace turns out to be a woman.  I guess we're supposed to feel that way because women aren't competent at surviving...or something...and the narrator is.  So *gasp* a woman!!  Wow, that's super special because she can hunt and chop wood and live alone and shot someone!  Who would-a thunk it!  I get what the author was going for, but didn't like it.  I'm generally not suprised when women are competent human beings. 

The other main gendered issue was that the novel turned out to be a kind of rape revenge book, and there was just something, some essential quality of experience, that I felt was missing in the book. The twists at the end seemed too contrived and worked out too simply.  The narrator just didn't seem as bothered by the sudden appearance of her rapist as you might expect.  It all sat a little oddly.

Look, I liked some of the book, some of the writing was compelling, and the first part was just great.  I wish it had continued in that vein. It just didn't work for me as a whole.  Some great ideas, but too much not explained or fully realised in the text. Worth a read if you're interested in the genre, otherwise give it a miss.


This was a Kindle for iPad read.

No comments: