Far North by Marcel Theroux

The end of civilisation…

🙂 🙂 😐

Makepeace Hatfield lives alone – the last resident of the town of Evangeline in Siberia. Some unexplained catastrophe has destroyed civilisation and decimated humanity. But one day Makepeace sees something that makes her think that somewhere remnants of civilisation may still exist and she sets off to find out…

This is a pretty standard post-apocalypse story, and I might as well start by saying I found it rather dull and pointless. We never know what caused the catastrophe – possibly climate change, though if so it doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the snowy wastes of Siberia. And, while we see humanity’s struggle to survive, there’s nothing terribly insightful about it. Scenes of horror and misery abound, there’s the usual cult religious aspects that are always included as part of apocalyptic dystopian fiction, man’s inhumanity to man is given full play, and we see that those who had stuck to their old traditional ways of life are better suited to survival than those who had lived in cities, far removed from nature and with skills that are useless in this new/old society. It has been compared (probably by the marketing people) to The Road, but it has none of the profundity or bleak beauty of that book – this is simply a kind of adventure story that quite frankly doesn’t have enough adventure in it.

I read it as part of my Around the World challenge, thinking it would be a good one for the Arctic. But while there are lots of descriptions of the wildlife of the area and mentions of the local indigenous tribespeople, I never found the setting came to life for me. I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think it may be because I felt that survival in the Arctic region should have been much tougher, oddly, than it’s portrayed. Perhaps that’s my misunderstanding of the region – I know people have populated the area for millennia so clearly survival is not impossible – but I can only say I didn’t feel the cold seeping into my bones as much as I anticipated.

I’m struggling to find much to say about this one, to be honest. It is quite readable, the writing is good and Makepeace is a likeable heroine. I didn’t hate it, but I suspect I’ll have forgotten all about it in a couple of weeks. I think I’ll look for a different book to give me Arctic chills…

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27 thoughts on “Far North by Marcel Theroux

  1. I’m so tired of this theme. It’s as if some writers think ‘Oh, I know, I haven’t written a dystopian novel yet’. As you say, it’s been done beautifully before – best leave it at that.

    • I know – I don’t read many of them for that reason, but I had enjoyed one of his other books hugely, so thought he might bring something original to this theme. Sadly not, though…

  2. Sorry to hear this one didn’t really do it for you, FictionFan. I’m glad the writing style worked, but your post is a real reminder that that’s not always enough. Interesting point, too, about adventure. Without a plot – a series of adventures, or at least something like that – I can see how a story like this would be less memorable.

    • Yes, I don’t think dystopian fiction really works unless it’s either making a profound point of some kind, or alternatively is a real thriller. This fell short on both counts unfortunately. It’s a pity because the only other book of his I’ve read was great and very original, so I had hoped he’d bring something fresh to this theme, but it wasn’t to be!

  3. I only read dystopian fiction if I think it’s going to be brilliant, because I’m not too keen on it and also with the world as it is right now it feels like we’re living it! I’ve been meaning to try Marcel Theroux but I think I’ll give this one a miss…

    • I’m not a huge fan of dystopian fiction either unless it’s making some kind of profound point. I actually read this one because I loved one of his other books, Strange Bodies, which isn’t dystopian but is wonderfully weird and had all the profundity this one lacked, so if you decide to give him a try, I’d certainly recommend that one!

  4. I’m afraid I’m not a huge fan of dystopian fiction, as I can find quite enough to depress me within the real world. If I ever do feel inclined to dip into this genre again however, I don’t think I will choose this one, as it doesn’t sound especially original.

    • I’m not much of a fan either unless it’s making some kind of profound point, but if this one was I missed it! I read it, though, because I’d read another book of his and loved it – Strange Bodies – which isn’t dystopian but has all the originality and profundity this one lacked…

  5. I enjoy a good dystopian story, but I’m not sure about this one based on some of the things you said. I noticed the Amazon page made references to The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (both of which I loved), but that’s no guarantee how I’d feel about this one. Perhaps I should just stick with my BL End of the World anthology for now. 😉

    • Well, I haven’t read The Dog Stars, but being honest, I felt much the same about Station Eleven as I felt about this one, so maybe you’d like this considerably more than I did! I don’t think I’m really a fan of dystopian fiction, although occasionally I love one, like The Road, so I keep trying. But they do seem to get more than their fair share of three star reviews from me…

      • You’re right… we might just have different taste in dystopian fiction. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy The Road, but I found it to be awfully bleak. Do you like stories that deal with the aftermath of events like solar flares or EMPs? I don’t know if I consider them really dystopian, but I’ve read several I thought were quite good.

        • I think I actually prefer the ones that don’t go full-on dystopian. I like a bit of hope and humanity fighting back – proper adventures! Real dystopia only works for me occasionally. The Road is certainly bleak and some of his writing drove me up the wall, but others bits were wonderful and I found it very thought-provoking in the end, so it’s become one of my touchstones for dystopian fiction now.

  6. Hm, think I’ll pass on this one. I’ll bet there are plenty of novels set in the Arctic that you might find more interesting. And you know, you weren’t too critical of this one, despite giving it only three stars. Maybe it’s what you’ve left unsaid that tells me this isn’t one for me.

    • D’you know, I’ve found it surprisingly hard to find novels set in the Arctic. There’s loads of non-fiction about explorers but very little fiction and what there is doesn’t much appeal. I did read a great horror novella set there a few years ago, so I’m thinking I might have to do a re-read of that…

  7. To me the Arctic is a dream setting. So unique, tough and fascinating with lots of possibilities. It doesn’t sound like the author managed to utilise this setting though and I don’t think I have to read this one. I have mostly read nonfiction about the Arctic, not sure if that works for your challenge.

  8. Hmmm sounds like a missed opportunity. Too bad! I think when you live somewhere that isolated anyway, is a big apocalypse really that devastating? Perhaps it might actually make life easier in some ways. I figure you live up there away from everyone for a reason, so perhaps the apocalypse is just what you were hoping for 😉

    • Yes, you’re right, they should have been fine in such an isolated spot. It was odd, and I couldn’t quite work out what had happened to everyone. The land wasn’t ruined, there were still animals to hunt or farm, no deadly disease seemed to be doing the rounds – baffling. I think it just wasn’t very well done…

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