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First published in 1885; and this still reads pretty fresh. Slightly old-fashioned, perhaps; but fresh. Jefferies is a wonderful describer of nature, and nature is one of the main protagonists here. In this book civilization has gone under, nature has come back, and only small groups of humanity have banded together in a tribal, or at most medieval/baronial, fashion. The centre of England has become a vast sweet-water lake, where some ships ply; other communication is very difficult, because of the tractless forests and hostile tribes. Felix Aquila, our hero, is a bit of a stranger among his own people; he lacks the keen prowess for war and is more of a thinker. He feels slighted by his family and that of the woman he loves, and decides to build a canoe and go exploring on the great lake. His travels and travails are the stuff of this book - but more than just an adventure story coupled to a post-disaster world this is very good writing indeed. Thoughts about human disequality and ones feelings towards that; about feeling different, and the difficulty of coping; and the power of a dream, and doing something about it. A mild and thoughtful epic, a good tale, and some beautiful writing make this an excellent book.
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on 25 March 2010
Jefferies' AFTER LONDON is one of the earliest sample works of 'post-catastrophe' fiction in English: one of those books which deal with events after dire events have wrecked civilisation, frequently reducing it to barbarism. It is divided into two parts: the first, and shorter, being a detailed account of the resurgence of nature in the aftermath of an (unspecified) national disaster; the second a more conventional account of the society which remains, which has reverted back to a variant of medieval feudalism. Hero Felix seeks to justify and claim the love of Aurora, an idealised figure beyond his reach due to the social strictures of his time. He sets out his man-made canoe to prove himself and his encounters with the world make up the remainder of the book. The novel finishes rather abruptly; bearing in mind how close it appeared to the end of Jeffries' own life that was marked by failing health, one wonders if a sequel was planned or if the writer was obliged to end things earlier than he might otherwise have wished.

As a writer Jefferies' main stengths lay in the power of his descriptive prose - something recognised and valued by his contemporary readership - which is almost photographic in style, revealing a real love of nature and natural phenomena. No surprise, then, that the best parts of AFTER LONDON are those from in the first part. Written, it seems by some unnamed future natural historian, the first section has also been the most influential on later writers. The second part often has the same static, observational quality which, given the needs of narrative of this part is sometimes less effective. Felix's quest is in no hurry getting started and a modern reader, used to modern pacing, may feel restless. However the two or three chapters which later describe Felix's entry and exploration of the black swamp play again to Jefferies' strengths as a writer, providing an apocalyptic vision made both real and symbolic at the same time. This hellish journey is, undeniably a great highlight of his book and worth the wait.

AFTER LONDON's odd structure is both a strength and a disadvantage: it allows Jefferies to play to his strengths as naturalist but also weakens the structural integrity of his work, leaving any real action to wait while the reader is left to guess at suggested origins of the narrator who, presumably, recounts both halves but who leaves little clue as to his own historical perspective. Modern readers however will still find much to enjoy in an original work which contains (in this reviewer's opinion) some of the most remarkable scenes and sustained descriptions of the natural world in English fantasy.
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First published in 1885; and this still reads pretty fresh. Slightly old-fashioned, perhaps; but fresh. Jefferies is a wonderful describer of nature, and nature is one of the main protagonists here. In this book civilization has gone under, nature has come back, and only small groups of humanity have banded together in a tribal, or at most medieval/baronial, fashion. The centre of England has become a vast sweet-water lake, where some ships ply; other communication is very difficult, because of the tractless forests and hostile tribes. Felix Aquila, our hero, is a bit of a stranger among his own people; he lacks the keen prowess for war and is more of a thinker. He feels slighted by his family and that of the woman he loves, and decides to build a canoe and go exploring on the great lake. His travels and travails are the stuff of this book - but more than just an adventure story coupled to a post-disaster world this is very good writing indeed. Thoughts about human disequality and ones feelings towards that; about feeling different, and the difficulty of coping; and the power of a dream, and doing something about it. A mild and thoughtful epic, a good tale, and some beautiful writing make this an excellent book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 May 2009
Interesting book marred by rather poor quality, print-on-demand book design. It shouldn't cost any more to produce a copy that doesn't look amateurish.
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on 5 September 2013
I did really enjoy this Victorian Post-apocalyptic novel. It started with a lovely description of decay and how nature reclaimed the land when the people left. The description of the apocalypse and what had happened was left vague, you were only given the same knowledge that the people at the time had. They didn't know what had happened, why the people had left, or what changes had made the cities dangerous. Which in many ways was a better way of telling the story than going into lots of details.

The book was a mixture of describing the world, the society as well as one man's adventure in leaving his society and exploring more of the world. There were a lot of interesting things about the new society, while it had reverted to the middle ages, there were lots of things that weren't the same that I liked better, for instance women were in charge of reading and writing and their work was valued by the men. It wasn't (unlike Morris' books) a reverting to the past but rather a new feudal society shaped by the society that had proceeded it.

What was also nice about the book was that it wasn't the bold young hero who was strong and brave that went on an adventure but his bookish and odd older brother. The older brother didn't fit in with society and was puzzled even more by what he saw when he went out on his adventures.

Another thing that was great was that the book didn't have a nice satisfied happy ending. It left with a lot of unanswered questions. The main character had an idea of what he wanted to happen but you didn't see him play it out so were left wondering if he was able to achieve his vision or not.

The descriptions of the derelict city and the warfare were really quite gruesome and atmospheric. The blackened city and the white bones were images that will stay with me for some time.

I really enjoyed this, and was quite annoyed by the person who wrote the introduction claiming how the author was "not a novelist" when he had written two novels that were being reprinted a 100 years later. (I doubt the same could be said of the reviewer!)

Very enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend.
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on 16 January 2012
I read this book because it was highly spoken of by reviewers of other post-apocalyptic books. But to be honest, I found it quite disappointing. Although well written, it is, frankly, boring.

The books starts off with an incredibly detailed description of the flora and fauna of post-apocalyptic Britain, which initially was fairly interesting. However after several paragraphs (let alone pages - there are 30+), it quickly became tedious.

The first, largely pointless, section aside I thought that the premise of the book was quite good. It just never really got going. I found pretty much the whole first half of the book, if not two thirds, hard work and uninteresting.

It has some thought provoking ideas; with the inhabitants of Britain reverting back to almost tribal levels and separating into distinct racial groups. Of course back in those days there wasn't much in the way of immigrants and so the splits went along Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English and Gipsy racial divides. With the Welsh, Scottish and Irish attempting to get their own back for years of wrong doing on the weakened English by invading and slowly taking over what was left of England. Nice scenario; but there are no Welsh, Irish or Scots in the book, they are merely abstract enemies.

It did get me thinking however as to whether such a thing would happen with the modern population, which is much more diverse, should society collapse. Following that train of thought was about as engaging and interesting as this book got unfortunately. There is no development of this sub plot; indeed I am not sure why there was so much background to the storyline, it certainly was neither used nor needed.

There are few characters; which was handy as I doubted I cared enough to remember anyone else's name other than three or four characters in the book.

Unlike other post-apocalyptic books, where the survivors are fairly advanced, in this story society has regressed back to a Middle Ages feudal society. But this is where the story really fell down for me, they weren't just back to Medieval development , they were literally living through the Middle Ages again - armoured Knights, Kings, Castles - the lot. However they didn't have the skills of Medieval society. For example they had no idea how to extract metal, only reuse old metal and so metal was scarce. Yet there were hundreds of fully armoured Knights running around, not to mention men-at-arms, swords, arrow heads and so on. They were living in the Middle Ages but lacked the skill of Bronze Age man, which is illogical. They also didn't have masons and architects, yet were building stone Castle's and Keeps.

As others have said, the author seemed quite preoccupied with the Medieval aspect of the book to the point where it really isn't a post-apocalyptic book at all and reads more like a Medieval adventure, save for one chapter or maybe two chapters.

It wasn't all bad however, when Felix eventually left on his journey, the story picked up a little. The chapters where he visited London were quite gripping and evoked images of a wasted nuclear landscape. Indeed the descriptions were quite prescient and would fit into any post nuclear apocalypse book, despite being written almost a century before the Atom bomb was invented.

Sadly, these sections are short, as indeed is the storyline itself. As others have said, it ends abruptly, with nothing resolved, almost as if the author got as bored as the reader. Which makes reading it even more pointless.

All in all it isn't a bad book, the depth of knowledge of the plants and trees and the landscape is amazing, if a little tedious; the story drags but has its good points. Felix is a fairly good protagonist and is easy to identify with. It would perhaps be a good adventure story for children and had I read it as a child I may have found it more interesting. As it is though, it is a fairly dull book that isn't even finished.
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on 13 March 2011
I read this book on the strength of another of Richard Jefferies' books - Bevis - that I enjoyed as a child. This was somewhat less enjoyable.

On the positive side - Jefferies writes about nature evocatively, and was obviously a keen observer of the countryside. This is a piece of Victorian science fiction. It takes place at a time when some unspecified disaster has overtaken English civilisation (and possibly the rest of the world) and the site of London is a toxic swamp. That premise, in itself, makes it interesting.

But the writing doesn't carry it. I found that it strained my 'willing suspension of disbelief' to the limit.

The whole first section of the book is a detailed description of the environment, animals and people of this post-apocalyptic land. Then, when the story gets going we learn that the hero, Felix Aquila, is smitten by the Lady Aurora. But he's not a hugely appealing hero. When he's in his love's presence he mopes about and then bursts into tears. And he expresses his love for her by constructing a canoe and sailing off around a vast lake that occupies the centre of England. He wanders aimlessly, enlisting in the service of another king briefly, and equally aimlessly, and then getting chucked out. He sails deep into the toxic swamp that was once London, by accident, but comes out alive, unscathed and with treasure (where others have died - he sees their skeletons). Then he gets himself elected king of some shepherds. But all of this is so aimless I found it difficult to care about what was going on.

And the end is so abrupt and inconclusive that I can't help wondering if Jefferies got bored with writing the whole thing.

There is virtually no dialogue and the author 'tells' the reader from beginning to end. There is little or no room for reader interpretation.

All in all, worth reading for interest's sake, but if you're looking for a rollicking good yarn in the mould of Stevenson or Kipling, 'After London' ain't it.

Alistair Scott (Author of The Greatest Guide to Photography
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First published in 1885; and this still reads pretty fresh. Slightly old-fashioned, perhaps; but fresh. Jefferies is a wonderful describer of nature, and nature is one of the main protagonists here. In this book civilization has gone under, nature has come back, and only small groups of humanity have banded together in a tribal, or at most medieval/baronial, fashion. The centre of England has become a vast sweet-water lake, where some ships ply; other communication is very difficult, because of the tractless forests and hostile tribes. Felix Aquila, our hero, is a bit of a stranger among his own people; he lacks the keen prowess for war and is more of a thinker. He feels slighted by his family and that of the woman he loves, and decides to build a canoe and go exploring on the great lake. His travels and travails are the stuff of this book - but more than just an adventure story coupled to a post-disaster world this is very good writing indeed. Thoughts about human disequality and ones feelings towards that; about feeling different, and the difficulty of coping; and the power of a dream, and doing something about it. A mild and thoughtful epic, a good tale, and some beautiful writing make this an excellent book.
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on 16 March 2016
A really fascinating book set in a time after a catastrophe sets England back to a time which is a sort of cross between Saxon and Mediaeval times. As the story develops it has a distant echo of Gulliver's Travels. I recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 24 March 2011
This novels portrays a well drawn and quite eerie depiction of a London and an England after some devastating apocalypse has transformed the landscape and driven away or killed most of the population, leaving survivors to set up small warring feudal communities or function as wandering bands of brigands or gypsies. The nature of the disaster is never made clear and no obvious single solution presents itself. The storyline against this backdrop concerns one man's struggle to find his place in this society, but was a little banal in places. Worth looking for, though (this was a Kindle edition).
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