It seems to be part of the human condition that, along with wondering about our own mortality, we inevitably think about the end of the world, or the end of time, as well. When will it come? What will it look like? What will be left? Who will be to blame?
Vivid explorations of these questions, whether in movies or in books, have existed for years and continue to fascinate. Most, if not all, of these types of stories could be described as “dystopian,” and Marcel Theroux’s 2009 novel, Far North, is no different in that sense. However, he does approach these questions from a unique angle.
Set in Siberia, we find one single, solitary survivor living in what was formerly a city settled by Quakers. The survivor, named “Makepeace,” is the sheriff of this place, and continues to patrol it, despite no one else living there. Makepeace’s parents, along with other Quakers and peace-seeking people, had left the modern world behind years ago, and moved as a group to this isolated land in Siberia, where they went about setting up a new kind of society.
This worked well for some time, and Makepeace, having known no other way of living or being, might never have known the violent, materialistic world outside had it not come knocking at their door. But knock it did, as people in more modern cities across the globe continued to consume more than they needed, driven to excess by greed and fear. The earth’s resources were plundered and disrespected, and the consequences were dire. When both crops and economies began to fail, hoards of desperate, hungry people traveled to settlements like this one, asking for help, for food, for protection. Before long, the settlement was overrun by the very problems of the modern world that they’d tried to escape.
There are indigenous tribes of people in the area, but Makepeace knows of no other existing communities. One day, however, an airplane flies overhead and crashes, sending the sheriff off into new lands in the hope of finding others who’ve also survived. We travel along on this cold, lonely journey, getting glimpses along the way of what could have been, had only societies thought longer-term and made better decisions.
We find the world described here by Theroux a hostile place, where little humanity remains in the people still there, and where they’re ultimately held accountable for their actions. A finalist for the National Book Award, Far North, because of its dark subject matter, isn’t exactly a light-hearted read, but it is a compelling one.
— LouAnn Lofton, firstname.lastname@example.org
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