The shattered Britain in which we find ourselves is rather well done. The use of a meteorite strike avoids the problem of characters surviving in a radioactive wasteland, whilst creating enough social and geographic degradation to pose real challenges. The narrative starts shortly before any cataclysm, and Walker shows us a Britain which is at peace with itself, but perhaps a little complacent. The view of terraced houses, suburbs and corner shops evokesthe warm beer atmosphere of stereotypical modern Britain with some success.
Post-disaster Britain is another place entirely, and Walker applies some considerable descriptive talent to letting us know about it. Major urban centres descend into madness. Parts of the country are flattened, buried, or simply washed away. The scattered enclaves of civilisation include rural swathes, urban centres and military bases, and it’s to the author’s credit that each of these can be differentiated, and also feel real. The rural areas are isolated, poorly supplied, and horribly dangerous. The urban areas are typically heavily damaged, filled with a populace on the edge of madness, and horribly dangerous – but each feels distinct from the other. It’s to the author’s credit that as the characters march across the length of Britain, each of their stops feels different from the last. That they’re surrounded by madmen, disease, and the promise of starvation or murder just adds a frisson to the proceedings.
Our protagonist, Edgar, is something of a slob at the start of the book. Unfit, living a life if quiet desperation, with a family which exists in a state of mutual exhaustion. He’s sympathetic in his everyday humanity, in his definition of himself through seemingly petty issues, constrained by everything around him in a life which is comfortable, but unfulfilling.
After the End of the World, Edgar changes. The narrative is, from one perspective, the story of his travel from one end of Britain to the other, looking to catch up to his family. From another though, it’s about Edgar’s transition from a man without purpose into someone with a central goal, and his associated emotional growth. It’s to the author’s credit that they make this shift organic and believable, and more so that Edgar’s struggle with his definitions of fatherhood and his role in his family are approached with a hard iron sympathy. We can feel for him, whilst wanting to give him a kick in the behind – whilst recognising his flaws in ourselves. In any event, Edgar is a marvellously believable everyman, and his viewpoint, if not always sympathetic, is thoroughly affecting and rather readable.
The supporting cast range from deranged lunatics through people broken by their experience, to the core group of compatriots who surround Edgar. If the book is partly a story of his growth, it’s also a story of the relationship he has with them. Beginning as a motley crew, driven together by necessity, they slowly journey toward being a far more effective gestalt – and the raw emotional honesty that empowers this, and Edgar’s character journey, is extremely well written, and makes for a great read. We get less of a view of the antagonists they encounter on their journey, but the author gives us enough to make them seem plausible,
From a plot standpoint – the broader sweep is very effective. The journey across the land is an excellent medium for smaller stories, and each of the palces that the group stop gives an opportunity to show something new in the post-apocalyptic society. The whole tale jogs along nicely, occasionally picking up a burst of speed at critical moments – and making for an interesting and affecting read.
Is it worth reading? It’s not exactly a typical piece of apocalypse fare., but I’d say so. Watching Edgar’s journey toward a different view of himself, his family and fatherhood is marvellous; the apocalyptic backdrop gives it some much needed colour, and adds situations which make this a fast-paced and interesting read.