Walden meets the apocalypse.
Don’t read this book. You will complain that there is no plot, and it’s true, there isn’t much, not really. It’s entirely allegorical, and you hate allegorical books. You will be irritated by the characters: one full of daffy, unrealistic optimism, one self-pitying and full of so much inertia he can barely move. You will hate that it isn’t grounded in real possibility, because what is possibly real about millions of trees sprouting full grown from the soil overnight? The dialogue will likely annoy you, consisting as it does of travelers making traveling decisions, holding each other accountable, offering solace. You will find the forays into magical realism, into myth and fairy tale distracting, and wish that they would just hurry up and reach their destination already.
For me, however, it was the perfect book at the perfect time, a dovetailing of my own green tendencies and a love for the end of the world as we know it. An apocalyptic fairy tale that has quiet and solid emotional truth about choices, self-determination and risk. Early on were parts where two of the main characters, Hannah and Adrien, significantly annoyed, but it is quickly apparent that such behaviors were both part of their role in the story and an evolving point. There are two teenagers, Seb and Hiroko that help provide balance to the heaviness of the adults. And that was one of the most interesting things about this book, that I believed these characters. I believed their take on the issues they confronted. Rather than being bored, I was fascinated by both the smallness of some issues–a mother’s reaction to a child’s lifestyle choice–and the largeness of other ones. I believed them all.
“Both the town and the woods were quiet that morning. Where, in the days before, they had been filled with cries and sobbing and the sounds of things crashing into the dirt, now there was just the simmer of the leaves, and grey faces watching the three new travelers without expression as they passed. Adrien’s final sight of the place where he had lived for so many years was an electricity hub fished off the ground, dangling its cables like a jellyfish caught in a net. Then the town was gone, and he was walking after Hannah down a ruined route of tarmac, and trees were leaning over him from every direction.”
I think people with a high tolerance for fairy tale-like worlds and plotting will enjoy this. Interestingly, I found its journey of the self reminding me of Mythago Wood, a book I didn’t care for at all. It also reminds me more than a bit of The Night Circus, less in the way of beautiful imagery but with many similarities in a meandering sort of plot. Don’t read this book if you don’t have a high tolerance for The Long Walk(s).
Four and a half stars, rounding up because it’s been rare these days that a story has so absorbed me.