Tuesday, April 20, 2010

the things that keep us here scares the reader out of complacency with its real life look at bird flu

This is one of the scariest books I've read recently, and there's not a single zombie, vampire, genetically modified creature or mass murderer in sight.

Like Stephen Baxter's Flood, The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley is scary because it could really happen. In Flood, global warming destroyed the world; in Buckley's book, bird flu does.
And like Flood, it's not really the flu that we have to be worried about – sure, it kills lots of people and is terribly contagious – it's the people we know that we have beware of.
The book opens reasonably enough; Ann Brooks is an ordinary mother of two middle-school aged girls, her marriage is dissolving and she has to start work again. Sure, she's a got a bit of a skeleton in the closet but it's nothing particularly terrible.
Her husband, Peter is a research veterinarian, who – surprise, surprise – works with wild bird populations. There's bird flu around, particularly in parts of Asia, but it's not yet reached America. Then, it does.
In a matter of days, hours even, the world that Ann knew comes crashing to a halt, and she has to worry about more than just getting a divorce.
What makes The Things That Keep Us Here so compelling are the small details of how one would survive if the modern world suddenly just stopped.
In Ann's town it's the weather that has the greatest impact as a massive snow storm brings down electricity and phone lines. Then the mobile service disappears and news becomes scarce.
In our world of instantaneous communication and too much information, it's scary to realise just how terrible it would be to have to live as our ancestors did – chopping wood for fires, washing irregularly, seeing and talking only to those who live in our homes.
It is also scary to realise that none of us is really prepared. Do you have canned goods, fresh water, a way to heat things, candles and endless batteries in your house? Not to mention basic medical supplies and the knowledge of how to use them.
As Ann's world becomes more and more circumscribed she has to make difficult choices about who is more important: her own children or their father, the man she never stopped loving and who is now back in her life.
Then, of course, there are the terrible things that people do when pushed to the edge. Quite early in the story Ann comes up against the worst of human nature as two people help themselves to others' shopping in the frenzy started by the closure of the schools.
Later, as life becomes more and more difficult and supplies dwindle, Ann discovers that no only is she tougher than she thought, but that she can be as hard as the worst among us.
The Things That Keep Us Here is a great book. Although a little slow-paced at the outset, it soon heats up and the everyday quandaries of people trying to survive keep you glued to the pages. You want to know who survives, and just as importantly, how they do it.
If you're even slightly paranoid, this book is going to make it hard for you to sleep at night. The recent round of H1N1 should have been warning enough, but sometimes, it's not enough just know about something. The Things That Keep Us Here shows us what could really happen – it might be fiction at the moment, but you just never know.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley is published by Orion and is available from good book stores and online.


Hope said...

great review - I read book too and could not agree with you more! can't wait to see what she writes next!

niki said...

Hi Hope, thanks for the support! Yeah, this was a great book. And I agree, will be really interesting to see what she comes up with next :)

Kania Putri P said...

Well-written review!!

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