I’ve recently been reading through some of the best science fiction from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This has led me to a few rather wonderful books that I’d managed to miss during the hungry, binge-reading period of my youth. Ah, such a wanton time of literary abandon that really was.
One particular novel I’d always meant to read was the British apocalyptic classic ‘The Death of Grass’. I’ve always been a fan of British sci-fi writers such as John Wyndham, Arthur C Clarke, and J.G.Ballard, due to the patient and reserved way that they approached catastrophe. It’s always good to know that in the end, nothing is so bad that it can’t be solved with a good, hot cup of tea and a bit of a chat.
Anyway, here’s the review I posted on Goodreads.
‘This apocalyptic novel, which belongs with Day of the Triffids and The Lord of the Flies as a particularly English affair, shows how society can descend into barbarism in a handful of days when all the food runs out. It’s a classic stiff-upper-lip tale of two families who get wind of a terrible plot by the government to cull the population in order to survive an impending famine. They escape a blockade around London and head out on a journey to a farm belonging to one of the characters’ brother. Along the way they encounter a new England, one where the power of the gun is now law, causing them to make some awful decisions.
It’s telling that the novel was written in the 50s, as the women characters are barely visible. All they seem to do is make tea, cry, and tell the men how beastly they’ve become. Admittedly it grates, but using the stereotypes of the time does lend a strange coldness to the emotions of those involved, adding to the sense of unreality. The story moves at a steady, if slightly pedestrian pace, but again this works in its favour, as each crisis slowly creeps into view.
There are few likeable characters, and even less likeable outcomes. While this makes for a depressing read, it also shows the stark choices that such radical situations demand, and how dehumanising it can quickly become. Very good.’
Do you have any old classics that you’ve discovered lately? Let me know in the comments below.