A Boy And His Dog At The End of The World by CA Fletcher
I would like to thank Nazia from Orbit for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Orbit
Published – Out Now
Price - £8.99 paperback £4.99 Kindle eBook
My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away. But we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came. There may be no law except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you. Because if we’re not loyal to the things we love. What’s the point?
Loss is something we don’t want to think about much. It can be our loss of innocence as we start to see how the world really works (or doesn’t); the loss of our health as we age and sadly the loss of those places and people we knew as we grew up. The world moves on and we usually change with it but what if the world moved on without us? What or who gets left behind? In A Boy and His Dog at The End of the World CA Fletcher provides a tale of a world where the human race and all we have created has begun to fade away and we focus on one young voice on a mission to be reunited with a precious member of their remaining family while they travel the strange remnants of our world.
In this world the end was a slow fade. Humanity for undisclosed reasons began not to be able to reproduce and it was estimated that 99% of the world’s population was slowly wiped out. Baby Busters rathe than Baby Boomers saw the end of the internet, cities and media as the population dwindled. Only very small pockets of people have survived, and instead relatively small family settlements are to be found in the remaining parts of the world that have survived the mysterious rising of the sea levels that these new generations have had to face. On a small island in the Outer Hebrides Griz is the young sibling of a family that are living this hard life; Griz has already suffered the loss of an older sibling in a tragic accident; their mother suffered a major injury and now survives a shadow of her former self; but despite all of this with their remaining siblings, pets and father a life is still eked out. It’s hard but bearable with the ones you love. Then Brand a stranger arrives in his boat and fools the family into believing that he is a fair trader – Griz discovers Brand has instead kidnapped one of their two dogs Jess and now escapes the island. Watching Brand escape to the sea Griz makes a last-minute decision to leap into a boat and pursue Brand (accompanied by their other dog Jip). Griz is about to go further than they’ve ever been before across the sea and the mysterious mainland were strange sights, dangers and surprises are all awaiting discovery.
In some ways this tale feels a very traditional tale of adventure. A young teenager racing to rescue a pet feels relatively low stakes but what I liked about this tale is the sense of the personal. For Griz Jess is family; it may not be the wisest course of action to leave all you know behind to pursue a dangerous man, but they didn’t really see any other options. As you may expect this plan doesn’t go quite as Griz envisaged and they end up on a harrowing trip into the remains of the UK. Fletcher has a lovely sense of pacing and as everything is told in Griz’s voice you’re really sucked into their world view. There is a lovely use of set up as Griz hints at hardships to come that slowly build up the tension as we await tragedy to strike. Griz while not exactly an unreliable narrator is still processing the events that have happened to them, so these clue all feel natural rather than forced. It also helps that Fletcher has a great sense of action be it on the high seas or in the strange empty settlements that remain standing. Its’ an extremely vivid and effective way of storytelling
In a lot post-apocalyptic fiction, we tend to see everything focused on the hardships of life – but while Griz does not paint an idyllic picture the actual sense as they see the mainland is wonder at what humanity could be capable of. It’s not often we actually imagine how someone would see what to us are fairly basic innovations. Imagine seeing your first ever motorway bridge or hearing for the first-time recorded music or eating a strange fruit for the first time. Griz is not bitter although they ponder why humanity may have engineered its destruction but with their first person narration its almost as if the reader themselves is being challenged to look at the world with slightly more innocent eyes and appreciate what we are can create. Along the way we encounter familiar location and other people (or beasts) that now reside in the mainland. Each of these encounters poses challenges for Griz to face; this approach is successful; as we bounce around from urban to rural to coastal areas getting to feel what this strange version of our world now looks like.
I think the one concern I had with the tale was Griz themselves. While I loved the first-person narration and that sense of wonder I did find a few things seem suspiciously easy. Griz on their remote island is a big SF fan; while I loved the regular contrasts between the cosy apocalypses of the golden age SF novels with the actual real thing, I never really got the feeling that Griz would have easily found all this material in one island. They are also skilled in first aid when needed and while on the one hand Griz is an intelligent young and often decisive character I never really understood where all this knowledge came from. I would have loved a bit more setting the scenes before the action kicked off to understand Griz’s life better as sometimes these felt more narrative conveniences to push plot along and I could see the seams showing in a few places.
Despite this Fletcher’s voice and overall story won me over. Griz’s story is not straightforward and instead poses many challenges and surprises. Some are harrowing but some remind you that humanity can be a lot more (and sometimes a lot less). The role of women in such a society is one issue that is examined, and we see there are still some people that see the new world as an opportunity to return to our worst attitudes towards women and those scenes while understated are uncomfortable. I also liked how Brand the thief became Griz’s nemesis; the two tussle with each other several times in the book and like any good antagonist you’re not sure how much they will lose and gives Griz someone to fight against at an more conceptual level. The wider plotting of the story as it is unwrapped is really impressive and one of those tales, you’ll be thinking about how you didn’t see the story’s direction the first time round even though the clues are there.
This story fits nicely into the type of post-apocalyptic fiction that is more interested in the people that remained rather than show us the event that causes the end. I doubt the book’s tributes to John Wyndham are accidental as I could sit this tale easily sit on fans of those novels as well as those who enjoyed the way Station Eleven managed to make us appreciate the now just that little bit more. It’s a very quiet tale extremely well told tale of adventure but there is a journey that awaits the reader that I suspect will make you start to look at the world with some fresh eyes again and remember that what we have lost can be found again. I will be watching out for more from Fletcher as I’m intrigued what other tales they have to tell.