“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?”
This book graced many a Top books of 2014 list, but does it live up to the hype? In my opinion not really, but it is not without good moments.
What’s it about: Well, many synopses claim it to be the story of a travelling symphony in a post-apocalyptic North America/Canada after the world is decimated by a flu pandemic, but I find that’s not really true. This is a book of many stories, and these travelling actors/musicians are only a small part of that. It is a book about how people are connected to one another. It switches between multiple POVs, telling the stories of a small number of characters over what adds up to be about 50 years.
“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough any more. After that, we want to be remembered.”
What did I think: I found this book to be something unique among the post-apocalyptic genre, in the sense that rather than being about people losing their humanity, this is about people keeping it. Although some awful things do happen in this book, they are usually kept in the background, and never ‘on screen’ so to speak. The focus is really on the good, not the bad, and while that is refreshing, it means that there isn’t much in the way of character development for most characters. I really wanted to love this book, and I did really like it, but I was quite disappointed in how easily this book could have been perfect. Unfortunately there was a messiness to it that so easily could have been smoothed out into perfection. Some of the connections are just set up for these perfect conclusions but just don’t quite get there. There are also long sections of story that is set before the pandemic that just seem completely out of place when contrasted with the epically small portion of the book that is actually dedicated to the travelling symphony (by far the most compelling of the stories). And most of these long sections set pre-apocalypse don’t really seem relevant or to fit in with the overall narrative and are basically just the story of one chauvinistic man’s love life which involves treating women like dolls and using them and throwing them away for the next shiny one. I didn’t feel like it added anything to the story I was actually interested in. Fortunately most of this is in the first half of the book, and after that the story get going a lot more. But it’s not so much that this backstory is boring or uninteresting (well, a little bit), but more what that backstory is at the expense of, which is more story of the travelling symphony. Most of the characters in the travelling symphony are completely two-dimensional (many are just a name with no personality attached to them at all) because there just isn’t enough time spent in getting to know them. Many characters are completely forgettable and when you pick up the book the next day you have completely forgotten who they are because you barely noticed them the first time through.
“It is possible to survive this but not unaltered, and you will carry these men with you through all the nights of your life.”
Despite its flaws this book (for the most part) was an enjoyable read. It is, however, completely and utterly overhyped. It could have been truly something special, but it ended up just messy and overly-longwinded in some parts, and completely lacking in others. It had a huge amount of potential that I feel it just sort of wasted. This book isn’t terrible, but I really don’t understand how it has graced most Top Books of 2014 lists. It’s good, but not great. But a lot of people really love this book so maybe I’m just a fool.
I rate it 3/5 stars