Julie Myerson - Then (review) (3 stars)

Julie Myerson - Then (review)

Apocalypse-set novel offers no respite from its bleak subject matter

(Jonathan Cape)

The apocalypse is cool right now. It’s everywhere in popular culture – as a theme, as a backdrop and in widespread adjectival form – and it’s all over Julie Myerson’s eighth novel, Then. Set in a desperate, ice-covered wasteland that was once contemporary London, the novel follows a bewildered and vague central character as she patches together her shattered memories and the ruins of her life. Barren recollections and an ambiguous identity render her relationships with the survivors around her as especially unsettling: they variously suggest sexual unions, infanthood, familial ties and a dire overlap thereof.

Myerson is no stranger to disquieting fiction, but Then makes for a particularly unpleasant read: the protagonist’s pointed loathing is heart-breaking, even if it is a veil for unthinkable denial and grief. The only solace in this tale of a nameless apocalypse, economic downfall and family breakdown is that human beings will make a home wherever they can lay their heads. Otherwise this book, like the nightmare it occupies, feels horrific and bereft.

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