Last Man Standing by Davide Longo and Silvester Mazzarella

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Last Man Standing by Davide Longo and Silvester Mazzarella

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: A unique account of an apocalyptic future all to easy to imagine in the current economic climate.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: July 2012
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857051226

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I've read countless dystopian fiction accounts of a world changed overnight by everything from man eating plants, to nuclear war, plague, or zombies. This is the first to present a complete meltdown of society as the result of economic crises, but this does hold far greater credibility than the average vampire or zombie plague. The main protagonist, Leonardo, is not a hero. He is a very ordinary middle aged man with many flaws. He has no super human strength or abilities of any kind - the only thing that gives him the courage to continue is his love for his estranged daughter, who suddenly reappears in his life, along with a deeply disturbed stepbrother, early in the crisis.

The catastrophe is precipitated by the collapse of Italy's banking system. The Italians seem to take this quite calmly, as more and more banks close, basic services become suspended and their society grinds slowly to a halt. Italy soon becomes completely isolated. Other countries close their borders, no food, medicine or petrol comes in, but it takes a remarkably long time for these things to run out - and strangely they sell for cash, rather than barter in a society where cash should be fairly worthless. Leonardo remains calm, and quietly waits for months in the hope his ex wife will return for the children, despite her instructions to wait only 7 days and then get to the Swiss border while the exit visas she has secured for the children may still be accepted.

But Leonardo doesn't seem overly disturbed and just waits until complete anarchy has taken hold. He is very, very slow to get a grasp on the fact that the world as he knew it no longer exists. He will eventually try to get himself and the children to safety - if there is still any safety to be found, accompanied by an orphaned pup, a mute ex priest and eventually, an elephant and a donkey. They will face cold, starvation and murderous gangs, the worst of which will be a motley assembly of children led by a Charles Manson type figure, and Leonardo will be forced to find a courage he never knew he had to save his daughter, but the book begins with a lethargic pace, which it never really manages to shake off. But in a sense the lethargy becomes part of the story, as if a dark and heavy weight has enveloped the entire narrative.

There were some aspects of this book I really liked, especially the use of a very ordinary man as the main character. I must say some aspects were too mundane for my tastes though. Of course everyone urinates, but it really doesn't make for interesting reading. I did like the fact that the collapse of society was caused by an event that is at least mildly possible, but I found the aftermath of the collapse highly implausible. There were holes in this plot large enough to fly a 747 through. I can overlook a few impossibilities in the interest of an entertaining story, but these just didn't do anything to add to the entertainment value, and after awhile they did become tedious.

I found the road warrior type children with the Manson like messiah so unbelievable it completely put me off the story at this point. The author gives no explanation as to why these drug addicted misfits are able to acquire adequate food, petrol and supplies when the number of survivors left to prey on has dwindled so rapidly - or what would allow these mindless thugs to climb to the top in a dog eat dog world, where adult gangs would have been much better equipped. Exactly where most of the population has gone is unsure as well. There are bodies, but not that many. One would think Italy was a nearly uninhabited zone before the collapse.

Additionally, there were some cases where the writer really should have done a quick Google search on the subject he was writing about. I can honestly say my children have more knowledge of elephants than the author did. It isn't a major issue, but it something that could have easily been avoided, and lends a feeling of sloppiness to the book. I also felt the book lacked something in flow. It felt awkward in places, and some long and drawn out descriptions seem to have lost something in the translation. Even so the author has managed to portray a landscape completely blighted and a world plunged into the depths of despair. I won't deny some talent in the author's ability so perfectly paint a world utterly bereft of light or joy. My final objection to the book has to do with graphic and unnecessary description of sex and rape scenes. That isn't to say all of these events are told in graphic detail, but I found the ones that were crude and unpleasant to read. While most of the rapes are only vaguely alluded to, the detail that is included would have been far better left out. There is definitely an underlying sexual tension to the book, but it is a creepy sexual tension, and this was one of the books downfalls from my standpoint.

In spite of all my complaints, this is readable. I would note that other readers have found this book far more enjoyable than I have, so perhaps it is just a matter of what you are looking for. If you aren't too worried about realism, and can manage to slog through the slower sections of this book, you may find it far more enjoyable. At the very least, it is unique. If you are tired of reading books that are very like so many others, and you want something completely different, this is certainly worth a try. I would point out though - this book is more definitely not suited for anyone under 18 - or in all honesty for me. While the scenes of graphic sexual violence are limited, it was enough that I would never again read another book by the same author. I won't rate down on this. I realise many people like such books, but it most certainly was not my cup of tea. But to be fair, I am less inclined to appreciate such scenes than most adults.

If the idea of this book appeals then you might also enjoy:

Rage Within (Dark Inside) by Jeyn Roberts

More Than This by Patrick Ness

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