Wednesday 21 April 2010

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Makepeace is one of the last survivors in the bleak Far North - a Siberia peopled by those who have fled from the cities and the greed. She lives a quiet and desolate life that is thrown upside down by the arrival of another survivor into the dead city that she patrols each day on horseback. So begins a series of events that sees Makepeace discover what has happened to the world outside the confines of her city.

Far North is a stark, quiet, tired novel. The world as we know it is dead; horizons are closer and the land feels smaller; primitive people are making more of a success of life than those who once ruled the cities. It is an intriguing read, but never an easy one. Light-hearted moments are not to be found, and hope is in short supply.

The prose is pared-down and brusque, narrated by Makepeace from a first person perspective, with her hard-earned wisdom:

"Human beings are rat-cunning and will happily kill you twice over for a hot meal. That's what long observation has taught me. On the other hand, with a full belly, and a good harvest in the barn, and a fire in the hearth, there's nothing so charming, so generous, no one more decent than a well-fed man. But take away his food, make his future uncertain, let him know that no one's watching him and he won't just kill you, he'll come up with a hundred and one reasons why you deserve it."

Rather than plot, which is slight, the novel deals with exploring the idea of what a world would be like where global warming has reached its inevitable conclusion, where mankind is gradually dying out. It is definitely a social commentary - a warning or prediction of what might happen in our future.

This is not a novel that I can say, hand on heart, that I enjoyed reading (it is too grim for that) - but I admired it. It is beautifully written, with some exceptional descriptive work, and surprises right to the last page. Makepeace is a very effective narrator - practical to a fault:

"It struck me early on that if they prayed less, they'd eat better, but as a guest, I felt bound to keep my thoughts to myself."

Overall, I think that Far North has important messages to impart, and that it is written beautifully. I would recommend to this to those who read and enjoyed The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Arthur Clarke thoughts: Well, my fourth read of the short-list contenders and yet another very different novel! In terms of writing, message, science fiction elements and concepts, I would definitely say that this is the book that can come closest to defeating The City and The City for the award. It is clever, grim and written by a superlative storyteller with an exceptionally strong voice. Moving from Retribution Falls straight into Far North has revealed just how stellar the line-up of books on the short-list is - so far each of them has offered a different perspective on the nature of science fiction literature. This is a very strong contender for the Arthur C. Clarke award.


  1. Looks like an interesting book. I like a dark novel every now and then. I recently received a copy of Alden Bell's "The Reapers are the Angels", which has a post apocalyptic setting. I'll probably read this soon but Far North sounds interesting. I'll keep it in mind for the next time I look for a dark story.

  2. I love post apocalyptic settings, but I'm not a fan of first person narrative. Nor do I like thin plot.

    But that said, it's been a while since I read a decent "Road"-esq novel. Might have to check it out.

  3. Think I'll have to add this to my to read list. I loved The Road and am always looking for more post apocalyptic type books to read.

  4. Very nice review, Amanda.
    I've just placed an order for this book. And I have to say that I don't have a problem with a dark novel. If I come to think of it, I believe that a dark novel is right up my alley :)

  5. To everyone who posted a comment - thanks for taking the time to read and post your thoughts on this review. I would recommend it, for sure - it is extremely interesting from the first word to the last!

  6. Interesting article, added his blog to Favorites