Saying goodbye to an old friend

Recommended for: people interested in what happens after the disaster

Earth Abides has long been one of my all-time favourites. Until I listened to the audiobook this week. And, oh dear, am I conflicted about this book now.

I’ve always been aware of (and annoyed by) the sexism and the racism and the capital punishment. But somehow for me, the strength of the story outweighed the (ahem) uneducated aspects. Alas, not so this time around.

This book is told in two threads. The primary thread follows Ish, an academic and intellectual, who finds himself amongst the last survivors of a great pandemic. The secondary thread follows the earth itself and the changes that play out following the loss of humanity (to a significant extent).

The secondary thread is, in my opinion, the most interesting one. The environmental, geographic, and biological changes are fascinating. The insight into what we would now call PTSD and survivor’s guilt makes for compelling reading.

The primary thread is underpinned by a white supremacist, heteronormative, misogynistic thread. The storytelling is masterful and the (white male) characters are well fleshed out and interesting. The female lead, Em, is a black woman. She’s also quite a good character and, while Ish and Em’s relationship would have been seen as shocking and progressive at the time of publication, it’s sort of implied that she’s some sort of exception to blackness rather than simply because she’s a good person.

Also, the descent into hunter-gatherer society over the course of the book just seems so avoidable and unnecessary. Why don’t they try harder to retain knowledge and instil it in the next generations?

There’s a lot to love about this book – and unfortunately, a lot to hate too.

Maybe revisiting old favourites isn’t always a brilliant plan.

Get the first two chapters of Devon’s Island for free here.

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