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A Post-apocalyptic tale of failing humanity.
on 14 August 2014
Having had the chance to watch Snowpiercer recently (and having loved it), I decided to return to the source and read the graphic novel it was taken from.
***** SPOILER ALERT *****
In a bleak and desolate future there is a 1001 carriage long train which travels constantly through the frozen wastes of an environmentally destroyed earth. The train itself is a microcosm of the previous world at large. Social and political inequality still thrives with the poor being crammed in the back of the train, living in like sardines in abject squalor; and the rich living a life of luxury and hedonism in the front carriages. The logistics of maintaining social order mean that everyone must keep to 'their place' on the train. No social climbing is allowed and no chance to better yourself. The story centres around Proloff, a man who escapes the tail section and is subsequently placed in quarantine as there is a killer virus amongst the poorest passengers, he is joined by an arrested woman called Adeline who is a campaigner for equal rights, and together they are ushered through the train by the military force towards their fate. As they move through Snowpiercer it is evident that life is very different, and some what decadent, for the more fortunate train dwellers. The poor have been lied to and told that meat, fruit and vegetables have become extinct, yet the privileged dine on them whilst the tail section residents eat processed cockroaches. Drugs and sex are the favourite pass times of the rich, they live without empathy for the poor and seek only pleasure. During their arrest Proloff and Adeline overhear that the tail section is going to be released as the engine is beginning to fail, they try to warn the end carriages, managing successfully, but putting their own lives at greater risk. On the run they eventually they reach the last compartment before the engine and are cornered, Proloff breaks the windows as he and Adeline would rather die than be captured, but he is rescued by the train driver and hauled into the engine compartment. There the driver, Forester, unveils the truth about the train and the last frame is of Proloff alone driving an empty train, all it's inhabitants killed by the virus.
As an idea the story is excellent with sharp observations and chilling predictions on the future of society. There are some horrific moments (especially the cockroaches and meat) and some parts of the novel which drag a bit. As with other reviews I strongly agree that the train does not feel anything like 1001 carriages long and I feel that there was a lost opportunity somewhere in the middle where the tension and horror could have been upped, more detail and characters could have made a richer story.
The artwork is somewhat retro (it is 30 years old) but the black and white starkness of it compliments the story matter. But like the movie Alien, the dated feel it isn't a distraction. A full colour approach would have minimalised the harsh and bleak nature of Snowpiercer and the art does skillfully capture the claustrophobic and hopeless microcosm. The length of the book is somewhat short, which works well in one respect as it was getting a little drawn out; but I do think that if the story had been expanded, with stronger characters, sub plot and more detail regarding the social aspects than it would have benefited from being longer. It's one of those strange books that firstly you think "thank goodness that's over" but you end up wanting to know more. What I did miss was character development though and building relationships between them. Being that it was about the decline of humanity, it would have been a richer story if a greater human element hand been added, I never quite got attached to any of the protagonists and at the end of the book really didn't bother what happened to them. In hindsight I wonder if any of the dialogue and story was lost in translation, as the book is originally French. Very often, especially in foreign films, a beautiful piece of dialogue is butchered by insensitive translation. Having said that though I did enjoy the novel and would possibly read it again.
If you have arrived here via the movie adaptation I should warn you that the book is quite different. The movie took the bones and rounded it out with muscle and heart, the story is more explosive too with a more dramatic but hopeful ending.
All in all I enjoyed the graphic novel but wished I had read it before seeing the movie as I was a little dissapointed. It is however a fascinating premise that makes you consider just what direction society is going to take. And will we survive ...............
Many thanks for reading.