Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Far North

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Far North is a speculative fiction book that is almost certainly hidden in the "literature" department of most any bookstore. In Far North Marcel Theroux delivers a first rate post-apocalyptic tale set in the seemingly near future.

The main character and narrator of Far North is Makepeace, the constable, and last surviving citizen of her city. A few short decades ago, settlers from around the world began to populate the far flung frozen reaches of the planet. Climate change had caused life in more temperate zones to become increasingly difficult, causing large groups of people to relocate. Makepeace's family, along with some fellow Quakers, relocated to Siberia. There they cultivated and harvested crops during the long, hot summers, and hunkered down during the extremely cold winters. However, drought made life in other regions impossible and people began to flee for greener pastures. Makepeace's city became increasingly stressed in trying to shelter and feed the new arrivals, eventually the stress caused the fabric of the society to unravel, eventually getting to the point where the reader meets up with the solitary Makepeace.

One day Makepeace witnesses a plane crash near her home, and after sifting through the wreckage, Makepeace decides to go off in search of the plane's origins, and to find the civilization great enough to still be able to fly planes. Makepeace's journey is nothing short of epic.

Far North has a definite, macho, western vibe to it. Makepeace's narration style had a gruff edge to it that had me picturing a man as the character until Makepeace declared her sexuality outright a couple chapters in. It is Makepeace's narrative style that gives the reader a sense of the harshness of Theroux's post-apocalyptic setting. It is through this rhythmic, cold blasted narrative style that the story unfolds and the history, and course of events are slowly revealed. To me, Far North read like a slow burn. Theroux slowly teases out the details and delivers the facts in such seamless ways that they can be easily missed if you aren't reading closely. Theroux stayed well away from the dreaded info-dumps that often bog down other speculative fiction pieces, and I greatly appreaciate that, and applaud how well the information fit into the story.

For me, Far North had a strong Western feel to it. I found myself picturing Makepeace as a bit of a Calamity Jane-type character, and the lands of the Far North had a wild, dangerous western frontier aura to them. The aspect of the world itself reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower books where the world has "moved on"; leaving those inhabitants left behind as living relics of the old world. I got that same feeling here, that the people of the Far North were struggling and surviving in a world that isn't really suited for them anymore. The fact that people managed to survive in those conditions seemed to be more of a testament to human stubbornness, than any kind skill.

Many people will try to compare this novel to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but aside from the fact that both novels are set in post-apocalyptic future versions of our world, the two books diverge in similarities from there. Stylistically they are vastly different, Theroux provides greater detail to both the world, its inhabitants, and the reasons behind the world changing events.

I don't know whether my reading of The Road prior to reading Far North caused this, or maybe I have a cynical notion of how human nature would change given an apocalyptic scenario, but I had a definite preconceived notion as to what the people of Far North would be like; how they would act, and behave, and treat others. I assumed the world would be filled with criminals, murderers and back stabbers, and be completely devoid of qualities such as trust and compassion. Makepeace herself says at one point that she mistrusts all people out of habit, so my notions weren't necessarily off-base. There are some great moments of trust and compassion in this book, and they have a real power to them. These moments made the novel stand out as something different and unique.

I can't find much to complain about with Far North, I think it is a well crafted novel, with a unique narrative voice. There were a couple survival technique/wilderness skill moments that made me raise an eyebrow, but I cant remember what they specifically were now, so they couldn't have been too jarring or upsetting. Aside from the overall post-apocalyptic setting, there were a few other science fiction and fantasy elements to the novel, but those were fairly muted for the most part, and didn't play too much of a role. Theroux did a good job of quickly dipping in, then out, of genre elements, weaving them nicely into the story.

Far North is another great read. One that should be appealing to both genre fans and literary types alike. It is also unique enough to not fall under the shadow of fellow post-apocalyptic stories. I think the use of climate change as the cause of the world's shift gives the novel a timely appeal.

Grade: B+


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Looks good, hadn't heard of it. I like the western feel to it, sounds interesting.

Ryan said...

Yeah, it is worth checking out. Its a good read for sure.