Saturday, 28 February 2015
Christopher Priest has already given a far more eloquent appraisal of this novel than I am capable of - read his review here - but I cannot resist adding my own response. What a phenomenal book: beautiful, complex, haunting, humane, surprising at every turn, and so marvellously constructed that you hardly dare breathe. Like the best science fiction (I am not sure quite what I would call this book) it makes us see the world through fresh eyes, with a luminous new clarity.
The end of air travel is a recurrent motif running through the novel: the characters are constantly looking up into the sky, remembering what it was to like to see planes, and the people born after the collapse of civilisation have no real understanding of how aircraft operated. There's a marvellous scene in which one of the older characters patiently tries to explain the purpose of runways, and that rocket ships were not the same as airliners. Later, the action converges on an airport, where the rusting forms of airliners still litter the runways and parking slots.
Not for the first time, I was reminded of this piece by Alain de Botton:
How we would admire planes if they were no longer there to frighten and bore us. We would stroke their steel dolphin-like bodies in museums and honour them as symbols of a daunting technical intelligence and a prodigious wealth.
Similarly, Emily St John Mandel's book reminds us what a privelege it is to be alive in the present day, in this time of wonders and miracles that we mostly take absolutely for granted.