on 4 February 2013
I'm not sure if I think this is a good book or not. On one hand I didn't enjoy it and it was quite confusing at times, but on the other it was original and interesting.
The book is centred around an amnesiac woman who is sheltering in a London office building with a few other survivors of an undefined apocalyptic event that leaves the whole city a frozen wasteland. She remembers almost nothing about her past life or the people she is with. It is gradually revealed how she came to be there and more-or-less who she is.
The style of the book is very spartan, with little punctuation (rather like 'The Road' but with breaks for paragraphs etc). This adds to the atmosphere but punctuation is used for a reason, and the lack of it doesn't make the text easy to read sometimes. The story is also very slow to get going, with almost nothing happening in each scene. This gives the feeling of the woman's memory gradually returning in a way that draws the reader in, but can be a bit tedious.
Finally, I pretty much predicted the ending (if you can call it an ending) and I'm still not sure what was real and what was imagined. Maybe that's the point, but I found it frustrating and I can't really see the point of it all.
This is a disturbingly chilling yet enthralling read. It packs a powerful emotional punch as the story unfolds through the eyes of the principal character. Her unreliable and fragmented memory is what drives the novel. But she is a difficult character to like. This, coupled with Julie Myerson's sparse style of prose, may frustrate anyone who prefers a more conventional story-telling approach. But for me it works brilliantly. The fact that it is often unclear what is real and what is imagined is what gives the story so much suspense. Are her memories of a past life real or simply fantasy, a way of coping with the post-apocalyptic wasteland? I read the novel over 24 hours because I needed to find out if my developing interpretation of the plot was correct (to say any more would give away too much and I don't like `spoiler alerts' as a review device). Overall, this is a highly recommended literary page turner.
on 20 September 2011
I keep hoping Julie Myerson will write another book as good as 'Something might Happen' This is not it. That is not because it is difficult, challenging or bleak, all of which it is, it is because to me, in my opinion, it does not really get into that place we all long for a writer to take us. It is hard for me to describe this, but what I mean is whether its 'just' a thriller or an airport novel for the time that I am reading a book I want to be out of myself, unaware of my own present reality and enthralled.
'Then' is set in a broken and semi deserted frozen London, the great monuments to greed, the shiny towers of the City are empty, more than that cannot be said partly for spoiler reasons and partly because a lot of things are not clear. The opening sentence is as follows' Sometimes in the middle of winter, the temperature drops so low that animals bite off their own tails and small birds come falling down out of the sky.'
I love that sentence and was excited and expected something scintillating but the rest of the book does not live up to the expectations either in story or character
There is a lot about mother love as in other Myserson novels the agony of it and what lengths a mother will go to in the name of love, in this case unspeakable lengths.There are bitingly agonising description of all manner of suffering by human and animals and yet...to me it didn't work. It obviously worked for others I have read their reviews and know of their tears but to me it doesn't cut it.
There is a lot of sparse but clever prose but I felt distanced I want to be immersed in a book not constantly feeling I should admire this smart metaphor or that intricate little piece of description. The writing style is too much for the substance. I am not dismissing this novel but I would say it is of unusually narrow appeal. it seems like a laboratory experiment by the author which I hope is not repeated
on 12 March 2013
I'm about two-thirds of the way through and I've had these thoughts in my head for some time and I feel I need to record them now.
Everyone keeps saying how gripping this book is, how disturbing, how powerful but I don't quite feel this the same way. It's not so gripping that I can't put it down but it IS fascinating. It's not so disturbing that I feel upset by it - for apocalypses it's good but also a bit tame; they're cold but not freezing, they're hungry but not driven to cannibalism, their world is falling apart yet there is a lot less chaos and brutality than I would expect. Pardon the pun but for an apocalypse it's a bit cold and distracted.
No, what IS fascinating about this story is the way it makes me feel like I'm in someone's mind; her mind. Her world has fallen apart. This cold, colourless landscape reflects her inability to feel emotions - she comes across as cold, confused... lost. Her "ghosts" or "hallucinations" or "flashbacks" are the product of a broken mind. And that's what makes the book disturbing - to be inside a broken mind. How much IS illusion, how much real? You feel something terrible has happened (and I'm not just talKing about the end of the world!). She's done something terrible - or has she? Is she blaming herself? Does she feel that somehow she's caused all this? All is confused yet has a structure... We ARE in a true wilderness here, the detritus and chaos of a broken mind...
And that is what makes this a truly brilliant bit of writing - the fact that it can draw these feelings, these questions, out of me - the fact that it can make me think about what all this is REALLY about...
And now I've finished I have nothing more to say
on 5 January 2013
Then is not a post-apocalyptic survival story. The apocalyptic event, which is never fully explained, that led to London becoming a frozen wasteland sets the scene for the story, but this is far more a literary mystery than a story of survival.
The writing style itself is quite difficult to get used to - it's quite bleak and time shimmers between the past and the present from paragraph to paragraph - this is a book that I had to pay real attention to, otherwise I would have been constantly lost.
Isobel has survived the event, simply described only as an unseasonably hot day that after a flash of light turns the world cold, and is sheltering in an office building with a man, and three teenagers. Having lost her memory, and continuing to have some kind of amnesia, she initially has no recollection of the event, or even of what has occurred just hours before. She is not particularly likable as a character, mainly because she has no memories to form a personality, likes or dislikes, and as she cannot remember nor really even distinguish between dreams and reality, she has an almost ghost-like quality.
Other characters fade in and out as the story progresses, and the whole book has a very ethereal but disjointed feeling. The ending is particularly poignant, but this book has no real resolution, which almost makes it a little bit too clever for its own good. This is not a fun read, nor action-packed, but I did like the ghostly, discombobulated feel. Yep, I've been waiting years to use that word!
on 9 April 2013
Definitely the most memorable novel I've read for a few years and one I've needed to talk about and urge others to read. Myerson creates a vivid and believable picture of a woman existing in a deserted London office block after an apocalypse of fire and ice, in a dangerous city where bodies lie in the streets and the survivors are feral - but there is also a layer of psychological mystery...is she deeply traumatised by the terrible events she's lived through, or haunted...?
on 10 October 2012
A book that will suck you in. I read it partly in my lunch breaks and then found it hard to come back into the 'real' world afterwards. Know 2 other people who have read it - one, a man, just didn't get it - the other a woman, got it as I did and loved it as I did. A lot to take in and, yes, it is pretty depressing at times, but I found it totally gripping and it is definitely a book I will not forget! If you like something a bit unusual then read it!
on 12 September 2013
A post-apocalyptic tale, initially confusing and strange to begin with, however as the story unfolds and things start to fall into place it becomes more and more disturbing. Incredibly moving; bleak and horrific, but absolutely brilliantly written. A novel I will probably read again at some point.
on 3 February 2012
I've been trying to decide why there has been a recent glut of novels and films or TV shows which depict post apocalyptic scenarios. I wonder if it is because society, having left the Cold War era behind is not living with a significant reality of this kind of disaster and therefore can fearlessly explore it as a fiction, or whether we do live in uncertain times, and novels such as these seek to exhibit and explore our fear.
It is true that the human race faces many potential threats to its survival: Will we experience alien invasion, and if we did would it be hostile? Will an unusual illness like SARS or H1N1 become an incurable global pandemic? Will a terrorist attack plunge a nation or the world into the Dark Ages?
And then of course, there's our old friend The Zombie Apocalypse, which I discussed in my review of Justin Cronin's The Passage.
In Julie Myerson's 'Then', the event which causes widespread chaos is not made clear, potentially it's an environmental disaster of the type shown in the 2004 film 'The Day After Tomorrow' and potentially it's a nuclear winter. What is known is that one day it got very hot in February, too hot, and too bright, and then things went dark and it began to snow.
Myerson's novel is unusual in that it doesn't really focus on the disaster or on multiple survivors, just really upon one female survivor whose name we don't learn until nearly the end of the book. She has sought refuge in an office block with a handful of others, but she cannot remember who she is, or why she's there. Though her companions tell her things, she forgets again, and exists in a confused fog, seeing things that aren't always there.
'Then' is a classic case of the use of an unreliable narrator; because she can't remember her own past and questions the reality of her current experience, we cannot trust her perspective. The narrative is muddled, but deliberately so, so that you realistically experience her personal sense of confusion, though this is frustrating at times. Even near the end I was unsure about whether certain characters were real or merely figments of a broken mind.
The plot takes us backwards beginning at her current location and revealing how she got there to start with, but whilst the end has good shock value and explains her current mental fragility I questioned its plausibility. Though good techniques are shown by Myerson, I felt that there was just so much more to an event like this than one woman's plight, though I suppose that in itself is the novels Unique Selling Point.
It's not hard to read and it is "a bit different" but I thought it was good not great 7/10
on 20 January 2013
I'd not read any of this author's books but had enjoyed her contributions to The Review on BBC-2 on Fridays. Having read the blurb, I guess I was preparing to read something along the lines of an early JG Ballard - rain and wind, or in this case snow. But by about half-way through I was bored, and so I skip read my way to the end (easily done - not that much happens on a page). For me, the book just didn't go anywhere, and hadn't posted any intention of doing so, and by the time I'd got to the Important Event, it simply didn't matter. At the start, given a narrator with memory problems, I kept thinking of 'Before I go to sleep', which I'd read a couple of weeks before. A better offering I thought. But perhaps I'm just a chap who likes a plot, or a character (or two), or a sitation. Just something. This, I felt, was missing all of the above. Sorry. I might try one of her others - after a while. As I say, I like her.