Then by Julie Myerson
One woman – uncertain even of her own name – is fighting to stay alive in a frozen, wasted London. Along with a handful of fellow survivors, she seeks refuge in an abandoned skyscraper in the City. But spectres stalk the empty offices and soon visions of a broken world emerge. Then creates an enduring apocalyptic vision as it hurtles towards its shattering conclusion and a final, horrifying act of betrayal.
As soon as I saw this book with its striking cover, I just knew I had to read it! I have to admit I’ve never read anything by Julie Myerson before, in fact, I hadn’t even heard of her. Clearly I have been living under a rock, because many of my colleagues knew instantly who she was and what she’d written, most particularly her novel Something Might Happen. A little part of me was wondering whether I really needed to read another apocalyptic, dystopian piece of fiction, but I just couldn’t resist!
The thing about this book is that it turned out to be absolutely nothing like I imagined it would be. After reading the blurb I kind of imagined a story similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but that was obviously a quick assumption on my part. I don’t know if it was my expectations of the novel, or the story itself that left me feeling disappointed, but disappointed I was.
Then follows the story of one woman, with a rather distorted memory, struggling for survival in a dramatically frozen London. She remembers very little of her past, of people closest to her, or even the people she is currently living with in an abandoned skyscraper. Because of her lack of memory, the protagonist is a very unreliable narrator, and we’re never quite sure exactly what’s real and what isn’t. The story is extremely fragmented and pieced together with her scrambled memories in the way that memories naturally come back to us – not necessarily in a linear order. Whilst I can commend Myerson for how clever this technique was, and how difficult it must have been, I have to admit it left me really frustrated at times. I frequently couldn’t work out what order events were meant to have happened, or what was really going on. In fact, at times it was simply the promise of a ‘shattering conclusion’ that kept me reading until the end. With that said, the constant use of casual dialogue made for an easy and fast-paced read. Even though this story and its characters frustrated the hell out of me, I couldn’t help but keep turning the pages to find out the truth behind it all.
However, the conclusion, although an extremely tragic one, didn’t quite feel as ‘shattering’ as I was expecting. It doesn’t take long for the reader to work out what really must have happened in the protagonist’s past, and is possibly one of its biggest downfalls, leaving me wanting something more. Looking back on it, I’m not even sure if my brain has even made sense of the story as a whole, which can’t be a good sign!
I don’t doubt that Myerson is a clever writer, but the structure of the story and style of writing didn’t really suit my taste, and I struggled to ultimately enjoy it as much as I wanted to. It’s definitely a refreshing read and stands out amongst other apocalyptic fiction, but I can’t help but think it could have been so much better. Simply put: an intriguing and clever read, but certainly not an easy one. Ultimately it fails to deliver what it promises. This doesn’t mean to say I will never read Myerson’s work again; in fact I plan to read Something Might Happen now that I’ve heard so many great things about it!
Then is out now, published by Vintage.