Then by Julie Myerson

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Then by Julie Myerson

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Myerson has created an apocalyptic London for her characters in this book. As the central character (who is a wife and mother) tries to get to grips with the horrendous situation she is now in, we back-track to her earlier life which was not all rosy - it had its major ups and downs.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 304 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224093750

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The front cover is graphic and telling. A frozen London with its skyscrapers emitting black smoke and random fires across a desolate landscape. As early as the second paragraph we see that something is wrong, something cataclysmic has happened with the lines People are eating the birds ... fighting over a handful of scorched sparrows. The story is told in the first person by the central character which gives it immediacy and draws the reader straight in.

She tells us, often falteringly, of despicable scenes and of harrowing scenes: bodies lie unattended in the streets, injured people scream out in pain but are usually ignored, dogs fights over human remains ... Yes, I would agree, perhaps not for those of a squeamish nature. But Myerson is not at all sensationalist in her prose, everything seems to earn its place. The shell-shocked woman who now struggles to remember (or doesn't want to remember) what happened on that awful day just comes out and says what she's thinking. The language is everyday but because of its content, it tends to pack a punch on the page - most of the time.

A hazy picture starts to emerge - both for this woman and for Myerson's readers. This woman has somehow, against all the odds, survived where hundreds, thousands, perhaps even millions, have not. There are piles and piles of dead bodies littering the streets all over London. If the fires didn't get them, then the subsequent zero temperatures did. Some days the cold can stop a human heart in less than thirty minutes we're told. No one could survive these horrendous conditions, you'd think but a handful have done exactly that. They all now huddle together in one of the many abandoned and burnt-out commercial buildings and forage for food as best they can. Apparently the looting of shops and supermarkets has already taken place.

Izzy (her name is not given until well into the book) is the main character. She does her best to tell her fellow survivors about her former life. But it's difficult. Her health has suffered (both mental and physical, it could be argued). Her nearest and dearest keep popping up in unexpected places, almost like ghosts. She's understandably distraught and she's not sure whether they are there, alive or dead. She probably knows the truth and is denying it. It's as if she's hallucinating. It makes for very sad reading. Almost every page is relentless in its apocalyptic 'now'. There are no lighter moments, so please take note.

The inside of the front cover says that this book ... is a novel of singular invention and bravery. I would agree with the former but I'm not sure about the bravery aspect. However, I did find the constant stop-start-stop conversations amongst the survivors a little wearing at times. The first couple of times were fine and set the tone and I understood why Myerson chose to do this but to my mind it was over-kill. And also a little off-putting. In these sections, I found myself struggling to engage properly, yes even with this inventive scenario.

We constantly weave in and out of Izzy's two worlds. The one with a husband, children, even a dog. And the quivering wreck of a person that she is now: just holding it together. But for how long? I found the second part of the novel better, much better. There we learn about Izzy's family and home life in much greater detail. Overall, if I'm honest, after all the hype of the cover and the blurb on the inside, it fell short of that terrific read I was expecting.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we can recommend Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty.

Buy Then by Julie Myerson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Then by Julie Myerson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Then by Julie Myerson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Then by Julie Myerson at Amazon.com.


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