A Quiet Apocalypse
Robert Welbourn reviews A Quiet Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery, the first in a series of post-apocalyptic novellas set in a meningitis-ravaged Britain.
I’m always in awe of people who write post-apocalyptic fiction. There are two main reasons: firstly, you have to take the world we all know and reimagine it. I often think it’d be easier to start from scratch, writing a world which appears to be Earth post-apocalypse, but is actually an entirely new planet. End-of-the-world novels are (in this sense, and to me at least) more in the realms of fantasy than sci-fi. Sure, there’s always sci-fi involved – usually in the form of whatever caused the apocalypse – but once the extinction event is out of the way, what remains is purely in the realms of fantasy. It takes a fantastic amount of imagination to craft a believable world.
Secondly, there are so many post-apocalyptic books, I’m in awe of people who choose to put their unique spin on such a well-known topic. This might come across as a back-handed compliment, but I can assure you I mean it! It takes real bravery to look at books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949), Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932), or News From Nowhere (William Morris, 1890), and think ‘I can do that.’ (I’m aware those books are more dystopian/utopian than post-apocalyptic, but I think the comparison still applies). And I actually need to add a ‘thirdly’ to this list: it takes real stones to release a post-apocalyptic novel during a real-life global pandemic.
These three things have been done by Dave Jeffery, and they’ve been done with aplomb. A Quiet Apocalypse takes what you expect from the post-apocalyptic genre and turns it on its head. It keeps you frothing at the mouth for answers, and turning pages until you get them. And the ending! I’m glad I had the second in this series ready to go right away, because as soon as I put the book down I needed to know what was going to happen next.
The premise of this book is as original as it’s possible to be when writing 21st century post-apocalyptic fiction. A plague has ravaged the earth – in this case, it’s meningitis. But it’s a new strain; one that causes death for most people who contract it, and deafness in people who survive it. There are also people who avoid contracting it altogether, and as such retain their hearing.
The story follows a man called Chris. As the book opens, he’s a hearing slave for a deaf master. His master lives in an abandoned farm, constantly on edge, trying to avoid roving gangs of people who go by the misleading name ‘The Samaritans’. What we learn about these people (which isn’t a great deal) only demonstrates the irony of them adopting this name. It’s one of the many amusing little moments in this book; for all its pessimistic and downright depressing content, A Quiet Apocalypse manages to contain a sense of dark humour. It’s absolutely necessary to have this occasional mood-lifting, otherwise we as readers would end up as sad and depressed as the characters.
Without wanting to spoil the plot, Chris meets a man called Paul (who can also hear) and they set off in search of a potential utopian city. As with most – if not all – post-apocalyptic media, there are rumours of a safe haven, where survivors can live freely, where society has been re-established, and where there is law and order. Chris and Paul attempt to find this place, and the book follows them as they do.
Though it’s only a novella (I read it in two sittings – a testament to the book’s small size, but also my need to know what was going to happen next), this book feels as big as any novel. Jeffery’s writing is lovely, almost poetic; he brings his horrific world to life in such a way that you can’t help but admire its beauty. The sentences flow from one to another, and it almost feels like you’re drifting along on a lazy river. You’re taken on a journey that should be harrowing, but it’s presented to you in such a way as to make it almost pleasant.
What’s refreshing about this book is that there are no monsters. Literal monsters, that is – there are metaphorical monsters aplenty. One trope that grates on me in post-apocalyptic media is where the world is ended by creatures such as zombies, or there’s a nuclear apocalypse and some survivors are turned into monsters, and yet we’re led to the conclusion that despite all these monsters, in fact humans are the real monsters. It’s a cliché, and one that Jeffery avoids. He never posits any monsters of any sort, it’s simply different types of humans squaring off against each other, which in many ways makes it feel much more real – and much more horrifying.
I very much enjoyed A Quiet Apocalypse; the action kept me turning pages, and the way information was drip-fed kept me wanting to know more. As I said above, I’m glad this is a series of novellas, rather than a stand-alone. I’m going to start reading the next in the series right away.
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