I finished this short Penguin Modern Classic (written in 1956) in the cafe of the National Library of Scotland and as I climbed the stairs to the reading room I spotted this incredibly apt advertisement for one of the Library’s WWI exhibitions.
It’s apt because the book is about a group of people seeking a ‘land of milk and honey’ in the aftermath of a global disaster wherein all of the grass on the planet (and therefore food for all the ruminants we eat) dies.
It’s a post-apocalyptic vision about environmentalism that is indeed, as the cover suggests, prescient.
It was written in the Cold War era where nuclear annihilation was a real and present danger and the future of civilisation genuinely threatened. Indeed, one of the government’s strategies to deal with the loss of cereal crops is to drop ‘atom bombs’ on all of Britain’s cities in a bid to wipe out half the population and leave the rest, post-apocalypse, to live on fast-growing and nutritious potatoes, other root vegetables and pigs. (The impact of nuclear fallout radiation was neatly overlooked as a potential flaw in this strategy.)
It’s a novella really, easily consumed in rapid order and although it suffers terribly from the rather proper vernacular of its time, it’s great.
It’s institutionally racist and terribly, terribly sexist, not to mention class-biased and awfully niaive. You won’t find a single bally swear word in its entire 194 pages, although you will find murder, rape and underage sex.
Nonetheless, if you forgive its ‘product of its times’ flaws it is an undeniably clever book, a good yarn and a pretty scary (and strangely believable) vision.
It has precursors of Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road (it’s essentially a road trip from hell to heaven) and chimes with The Lord of The Flies as it speculates on who would take control in times of martial law and civilisation breaking down.
I have to say I galloped through it, chuckling at times at the dated language. It’s even more of a museum piece in that respect than Dickens, but it’s a compelling read and I recommend it, flaws and all.