This was overall a very tense and gripping story. The idea of an unexplained infection turning large parts of the population into emotionless zombies and a small few becoming violent isn't especially original however it is very well done here. I felt the sense of panic, tension and loss was very well realised. The sense of it being quite close to what could happen in the real world was quite disturbingly well described for me.
The choice to spend most of the book with one family and follow their journey works very well as the family's characters felt very fully formed to me and the feeling of being a fly on the wall with them works especially well. It really gave me a sense of their day-to-day survival routine, the boredom, the desperation and the terror of it all.
I was all set to give it 5 stars until I got to the final third of the book. At this point it moves away from being just about the family and includes a camp of near by survivors trying to work together. While some of the camps new characters are likeable and effective at adding a bit of action it's just as it build towards a big finish I felt it didn't really need that, it was working fine for me as the day-to-day life of a family tested in situations they could never have predicted. The final third also spoils it a bit for me as it also goes suddenly dreamy and abstract which for me didn't fit the gritty tone I had pictured through out.
The book itself is a bit of a massive beast to look at broken into 4 huge chapters (the first two being about the family and making up about two thirds of the book, the last two chapters making up the last third and involving the camps survival efforts). However, each chapter is broken up into to short sharp sections using the books 'III' logo which I found great for making progress when the working week gets a bit busy.
First published in 2010, Welsh author Rhys Thomas (hailing from the glamorous location of Pontyclun no less) delves head first into the post-apocalyptic subgenre; cashing in on the recent renewal of interest in this bleak situational concept. Indeed, the book's cover blurb markets the novel as "28 Days Later meets The Survivors "(sic). In many aspects of the novel this comparison is a reasonably good representation of what's on offer here. However, for the more post-apocalyptic savvy amongst us, you can throw in much closer comparisons such as `Among Madmen', `Hater', `Cell' and dare I say early elements of `The Passage'? Throw in the heavy emotional end-of-days turmoil of `The Road', `Earth Abides', `The Rift' or indeed `On The Beach' - and you pretty much hit the nail on the head.
The tale follows a collection of everyday individuals who struggle to survive within a world that is unceremoniously brought to its knees by an inexplicable illness dubbed The Sadness, that once contracted, drags the infected into bottomless depths of despair, occasionally pushing them to unprovoked acts of mindless violence, until after the third day, they succumb to death. Amongst the havoc, panic and chaos that this spreading illness is causing, Miriam Asher together with her stepbrother Joseph, attempts to protect her young son and daughter, after her husband is taken by The Sadness. The family struggle with day-to-day survival amongst this new violent and uncaring world.
After travelling to the rurally set and somewhat isolated location of Joseph's seaside cottage, the family attempt to start off a simple self-reliant life for themselves, away from all the unpredictable madness that has consumed the world.
When a huge ship crashes into the coastal shores that their cottage overlooks, a flood of survivors take to the beach; onto which the beginnings of a new community starts to form. However, not everyone left unaffected by The Sadness is so peace-loving. Clad in black, with gas marks obscuring their features, an army of merciless killers are scoring the land destroying crops, plundering shops and brutally murdering everyone they cross. The world looks bleak for every last survivor. Their individual judgements are at hand...
From the very outset of the novel, Thomas leans heavily towards the downbeat emotional conflict and strain on the lead individuals, setting down a bleak atmosphere for the story to draw a path through. The result is a powerfully character driven storyline, that carefully treads through a complex array of emotional levels that are portrayed by the handful of principal characters that the storyline is formed upon.
Although Miriam and her family are the constant thread that the tale is based around, a number of other often hazy subplots and parallel running storylines are interwoven around their story, creating a complex tale that flutters between a multitude of miniature sub stories and vague glimpses of `something else'.
The surreal and dreamlike quality of Thomas's writing style creates a perfect breeding ground for an atmospheric apocalyptic setting, with ideas of biblical retribution bounded around here and there, as well as much vaguer open-ended sequences, set down to allow the imagination of the reader to embark on their own individual paths.
The story haphazardly builds towards a collection of dramatic finales, each one clumsily set amongst the overall dominating direction of the story - the ever-increasing threat of the marauders in black. To this aspect of the storyline, The Sadness takes a sudden backseat.
The tone of the novel is set at a constantly depressive low; with moments of relief and joy few and far between amongst the overwhelming misery that is portrayed. The unavoidable bleakness quickly becomes claustrophobic and utterly oppressive, which is maintained and drawn upon throughout the length of the tale.
Thomas often wanders off the path of his story, choosing to spend a number of pages on characteristically insightful dream sequences, emotionally driven thoughts and mysterious glimpses of a possible answer to the background question of `why?'.
All in all, the novel is a triumph of bleak and depressive post-apocalyptic fiction. The story is well written, with skilfully developed characterisation and a powerful and gripping plot. However, the structure to the tale often becomes too loose, with meandering subplots that ultimately leave the reader feeling outside of the storyline and potentially loosing interest.
Although the suggestive glimpses of `something more' are intriguing and encourage the reader's imagination to run loose on the possibilities, the overuse of this ploy has instead resulted in a slightly unsatisfying conclusion to the tale. This however, does not overshadow the powerfully emotional strength of the tale, or indeed its masterfully delivered post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
The novel runs for a total of 520 pages.
on 29 May 2010
If nothing else, you can try and keep track of how many times the novel crosses the borders between scientific apocalypse (mystery illness - the Sadness - ending in death in three days), conventional horror (breakdown of society and how low can a human being go) and supernatural thriller (all that rainbow symbolism must mean something). On the other hand you could just take it as a thoroughly entertaining read.
There's no answer to it all at the end: as television, radio and internet fail, so too does any idea of what's happening outside of the viewpoint of the central characters. Although the book has a satisfying enough ending, it's one within a very small community, in the world created by the Sadness. Neither the Army, the Centre for Disease Control, nor Her Majesty's Government turns up at the last minute to wave their magic wands and make everything alright again.
Rather, we watch as society breaks down, forced to confront something no-one understands, and accommodates it. Ethics take a bashing as the situation worsens: is it safe to help another person? Once someone has the Sadness, is it kinder to kill them outright? No? What about when a percentage of those with the Sadness develop horror-novel violent instincts? There's no real discussion of these points, they're simply part of the new reality the characters find themselves in.
Rhys Thomas's prose is easy to read, with the odd fresh and startling comparison or metaphor. Occasionally the word order of a sentence is a little strange, but it does lay emphasis on the subject at hand. Overall the tone of the book frequently reminded me of John Wyndham's "Kraken", especially given the lack of answers.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone with a penchant for disaster/horror/society breakdown novels.
on 27 January 2016
This book is an epic and thoughtful meditation on society
There are very tense action sequences that are vividly described - the chapter in the supermarket being a prime example
This book has the classic elements of post-apocalyptic fiction but is also highly original
on 25 November 2012
This book is pretty long and is split into 3 large sections and a 4th short one. The first two sections were very enjoyable as we follow a family during an outbreak of a mysterious condition. Most people that contract the condition become very depressed, while a small proportion become violent. There are no 'zombies' as such, but this aspect of the book reminded me of David Moody's 'Hater' series or Simon Clark's 'Blood Crazy', where people drastically change their behaviour almost instantaneously, leading to a collapse of society.
However, I thought the third large section was pretty average and uses a style that felt at odds with the first two thirds of the book. A lot of new characters are added and the focus of the book changes significantly. This section is much more action based than the first two, but the atmosphere that is established up to this point is somewhat lost.
Additionally, there are a few odd features to the writing style, but nothing that ruins the book. For example, despite having their own names, why are two of the main characters contantly referred to as Henry's father and Miriam's mother?
I thought that the 4th section was terrible, but I can't say much more without ruining the story. At least it was short (around 20 pages out of around 520).
Not a terrible book by any means, but not brilliant either. Worth a read if you're interested in apocalyptic fiction and/or zombie novels.
Post apocalypse stories are ten a penny these days, particularly in cinema, but they also appear in books and television.
In such a crowded market place you have to do something a bit different to stand out from the crowd. Rhys Thomas manages to do this by focussing his story on one family and their trials and tribulations as they seek to cope with the new and frightening world that arises.
Unlike some of this genre this is not a slaughter or zombie fest. True these elements are there but the focus remains on the family, particularly the mother Miriam and the uncertainty, fear and desperation they feel. These emotions are communicated very effectively to the reader who lives through the family's experiences with them. Some of the experiences are quite mundane, but this only adds to the authentic feel.
In another important theme, the conflict between those who want to maintain some form of civilisation and those who descend into some version of primeval savagery is clearly heavily influenced by the "Lord of the Flies".
If you fancy some post apocalyptic fiction which reflects more accurately the real fears and difficulties we all would face in such a situation then this is worth a try.
"The Third Day" follows in the footsteps of classic books like "Day of The Triffids" and "The Death of Grass" in imaging a crumbling world in the months following an apocalyptic happening. The difficulty with this type of book lies with the premise and the difficulty of avoiding total absurdity, sometimes the best option - as seen in "The Road" - is simply to avoid the issue, not that anyone told Windham and his spitty plants (but then again he was a genius). Rhys Thomas opts for the tried and trusted zombie-style holocaust with the world's population decimated by a unexplainable "sadness" (imagine the weirdness of the brilliant, underrated film "The Happening" crossed with the madness of "28 Days Later). The first half of the book deals with the spread of the "virus" and the breakdown of society whereas the second half disguises the question "what is it to be human? within a series of excellent page-turning action sequences. The book does on occasion threaten to gallop off into fantasyland with some religious-y sci-fi which could have fallen out of Stephen King's "The Stand" but Thomas always manages to steer things back on course in the end. An ideal holiday read. Recommended.
I am a big fan of post-apocolypse novels and have read some brilliant books (World War Z) and some absolute stinkers (Monster Planet) so feel fairly well qualified to give this book a fair review.
Thomas has some good writing skills, his prose is very descriptive and crackles along.
The premise of the book is good and the 'illness' for want of a better word is a clever plot device and well described.
Where this book falls down is that it seems to shift from genre to genre and doesn't seem to know exactly what it is. I am glad I don't have the unenviable task of marketing this book because it is a hard one to pigeonhole.
At the beginning there are shades of traditional apocolypse novels, the illness sufferers running round ripping people apart, shady government experiments, newscasts of the world crumbling, all good stuff.
But then the story shifts to the countryside and a family taking refuge away from the troubles. Here the book shifts into questions of faith and issues of trust and judgement.
The story shifts again when a tanker grounds near to the family taking refuge and a proto-civilisation springs up when a camp of scavengers come to strip the ship.
The book tries to encompass a lot of issues, faith, trust, savagery, the breakdown of civilisation, family, grief, parenthood and many more besides. I think the book spreads itself a little too thin, despite being over 500 pages in length and there is a loss of focus and narrative tightness that I fell should have been addressed.
That said, when Thomas hits his stride he can fairly crank up the suspense and excitement and I feel he has some interesting things to say about the genre.
He has taken a scattershot approach where one well aimed bullet would have been ultimately more hard hitting and devastating.
Still, worth a look to the interested.
on 25 October 2010
This is one of the best novels I have read in years...so touching and gripping. Utterly unique end of the world fiction. A superb read for people with soul.
I cannot recommend this enough, just be of the right mind set when you read it.
This is a well written post apocalypse thriller. It would make a superb holiday read. It does what a novel should do and transports the reader into a recognisable, but different world from our every day life. Like all scare stories it is close enough to reality to be credible, but far fetched enough that you remember it's a novel you are reading.
This book is on a classic end times theme. A new fatal illness has appeared from nowhere and spread quickly. In terms of infection it is very dangerous being both highly lethal, and it spreads quickly. Last year in the UK and the rest of the world we were lucky that swine flu was not too infectious (not that many people got it) and not very virulent (not many died from it). This book describes well the chaos that could emerge if a new rapidly spreading highly lethal infection got hold in our community. The illness described in the book clears whole areas and countries of their inhabitants.
The illness in this book is fortunately entirely imaginary and for literary purposes. It is not an illness of any sort ever known to medicine. It is called "the Sadness" and it kills people in 3 days, with some disinhibited behaviour patterns being released during the victim's decline. So some of the victims turn violent and nasty as they are dying. The illness is very consistent and its natural history, and everyone soon learns to recognise it. After all, there is a lot of it about, even if there are not many doctors or nurses left to pick up the pieces, and not much they can do for it anyway. Indeed in this book all the official agencies such as police, health service, health protection agency, army are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard in dealing with the disease.
The story focuses on how people behave in such an awful scenario with various responses shown from anarchy and violence to pockets of community cohesion and mutual help. The characters are recognisable and credible, and their concerns are all too human. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs this book is not about high order goals such as self actualisation, but about meeting basic needs such as food, warmth and shelter. In this book life does become as Hobbes described it "nasty, short, brutish," and "a battle of all against all"
This book is cracking good read, and a well told post-apocalyptic drama.