From the very beginning, this book is filled with dread.
In many ways, our heroine Anne is living a pastoral idyll, self-sufficient in her green valley. Outside of this hamlet everything is dead, the trees brown and bare, the sky empty of birds, the nights silent.
Growing her own crops, husbanding her own livestock, canning and cleaning and scavenging, and even attending Church, she is a frighteningly competent fifteen-year-old surviving alone with her sanity remarkably intact. Seriously, we all want to be Ann when we grow up.
But the coming of John Loomis – she calls him “Mr. Loomis”, because he is an adult and she has been raised to be respectful – a scientist in a radiation-proof suit who foolishly gets himself quickly radiation poisoned, changes everything for her, at first as she hides from him, sensibly assessing his threat level, then as she cares for him in the depths of his illness, and then as he tries to exert both verbal and physical control over her at every turn.
Ann is a particularly perceptive, determined young woman, but this book is very good at illustrating that even very perceptive young women can and will fall into patterns of politeness and appeasement when confronted with an aggressive, domineering man. It is Loomis’s own madness — we want to believe his brain was affected by the radiation, but his fever-fuelled flashbacks prove he was always a dick — that eventually drives Ann away from the home she has cared for so diligently (she’d idly considering marrying him, this Last Man Alive, when he first arrived; on her seventeenth birthday would be perfect, she thought), and as a parable for female empowerment this book works even better than as a warning of the devastating effects of science gone mad.
It is a book of terrible beauty, a knife’s edge read, where the peaceful serenity clashes so perfectly, so devastatingly, with the gut-wrenching fear that the cognitive dissonance is almost too much to bear.
Two characters and a dog. That is all this book gives us. But it does so much with them, tells such a big story so intimately, through the clear, matter-of-fact journal entries of the intrepid Ann, that it never falters, never fails to make its point. It is a force of nature.
I’ll be thinking about this book forever.
TBR DAY 79: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.