Friday 2 July 2010

Life as we knew it

I read about this book somewhere, 'Life as we knew it' by Susan Pfeffer, and requested it because I had been looking for something to keep the girls happy while we wait for the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy (which is due out next month some time). Anyway, I picked it up only because I was making lasagne the other night and it was the only thing to read on the kitchen table and I didn't want to let the onions burn by going off upstairs to find something else. With horrible fascination I ended up spending the entire evening and following afternoon reading it, unable to abandon it in disgust because I just had to know how she was going to end this pile of complete twaddle. I am only writing about it because it made such an interesting contrast with 'The Road' (if you are a new reader do pop back and read this review, it was the best book of last year).

It is written in diary form by a teenage girl, telling about what happens to her family as their life is transformed by disaster. So we have this scenario where an asteroid hits the moon and causes unforeseen disruption to the tides and weather and volcanic activity on earth (well for a start they would have seen that coming!) In the immediate aftermath it is as if half the people have not noticed anything while within days the other half are wiped from the face of the planet. There is some panic buying as they stock up with food ... and strangely kitty litter. They carry on going to school and spend time queueing for petrol. The community is obviously quite isolated and initially appears unaffected by what it going on in the outside world. The older brother makes it home and they spend some time hacking down a local forest to provide themselves with fuel. Quite what other people are doing to prepare we don't know. Then the 'nuclear winter' sets in, temperatures plummet and they are snowed in. The electricity finally fails, though somehow a postal service is still operating, and the family ends up all bedded down in their sun room that has a wood burning stove, living off tinned vegetables.

The whole story just drove me round the bend. I could not believe that in such a situation people would behave as they did. It was as if they were in total denial about what was happening. For a start there would be migration of people from areas affected by volcanic activity and tsunamis. Nothing. There would be mass panic and violence and troops on the street. Nothing. After the summer 'holiday' they try and start a new school term. Why? They are barely keeping themselves alive with the cold and lack of food and they are pretending that life will go on as normal. The girl expends inordinate amounts of time and energy and water washing their clothes and bedding. Why? The mother becomes obsessed with them carrying on with their school work, as if there will be a college to go to in the spring. When their food finally runs out, after this huge struggle for survival, and nursing her family though illness single handed (one of them should definitely have died at the very least) she decides to sacrifice herself and walks off into the snow. She knows from a trip to the hospital (which was still staffed!) that most of the population have died from the flu but they make no attempt to go out and scavenge for food or fuel from other houses. The whole thing just made no sense at all. It was just a nice little tale of a family bonding and struggling together for survival. It is peppered with family rows and then warm cosy moments of togetherness as if all the author is trying to do is moralise about the importance of family.
I won't spoil it for you by giving away the ending:-) Read 'The Road' instead, desolate as it is, I think even teenagers would get more out of it, it speaks volumes about humanity and survival where this book has nothing meaningful to contribute.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to read it...but it does strike me as the way a lot of people would react. They would not be able to fathom that things had changed forever, and would attempt to carry on. People are very good at ignoring terrible things, or at least thinking they are things that happen in Africa, or Asia, not to 'us'. Just remember all of those people in Manchester before the bomb went off...the police were having a hard time getting people to take it seriously...they just wanted to carry on shopping. It is like there is a fault in the human brain, that tells people that once you are on a certain course, you cannot change it, even though it is failing. Just take schools for another example...
    And apparently this is the first of a trilogy...


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