Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Great title for a great book!
The end of the world came gradually, with what was known as the Gelding. Humanity lost its ability to reproduce and the Lastborn generation, known as the Baby Bust, just grew older and older until they finally died out. Only a tiny fraction of a percentage of the population were still able to have children, and they now live in isolated areas, far away from the abandoned mainlands.
Among the survivors are Griz’s parents and their children, who live with their pets and livestock on an island in the remote Outer Hebrides, subsisting on what remains of the society who once lived there. Electricity, manufacturing, and communications are all gone. Books, however, endure. Books that Griz reads avidly to learn about the human civilisation that has vanished, and all the wondrous stories and possibilities it once held. Though their lives are marred by tragedy, Griz and family live peaceably on their island until an unusual event rocks their quiet world and changes everything. At last, Griz and Jip the dog are impelled to venture on a perilous journey into the world beyond …
One of the many delights of this novel is that it manages to take a standard trope of dystopian science fiction - as seen in the likes of P. D. James’ Children of Men and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – and puts a fresh spin on it, creating an intelligent, erudite, and enthralling page-turner that hooks the reader from the get-go and never lets up. Particularly gripping are the suspenseful hints dropped from time to time as to what might be about to happen to Griz and Jip, generating anxiety for their fate and forcing the reader to suppress the urge to read ahead.
Another wonderful element for the discerning book lover is how classic literary works with relevance to Griz’s situation are woven seamlessly into the narrative – from Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, to Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, to C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, among others. Thematically, this use of past literature perfectly enhances this terrific novel, with its emphasis on how essential stories and storytelling are to our humanity (and how they can also be twisted to serve the darker side of our nature); the importance of memory and hope; and how to use our stories, memories, and hope to light our way through the darkness.
At times, Griz and Jip’s journey feels reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – though, again, the novel holds its own with a powerful, distinctive evocation of the empty, eerie, ruined yet still recognisable landscapes and cities of Scotland and England, and the dangers contained therein. Telling the story from a first-person POV, Griz is an immensely likeable, thoughtful, and sympathetic protagonist, a headstrong young person who makes mistakes but has compelling motivations and a good heart, while Jip is too adorable for words. Highly recommended, with a brilliant ending which shines a whole new light on the events of the book and makes one want to read it all over again.