Every so often, an afternoon spent trawling aimlessly around the internet will turn up a rare gem. Last week’s discovery was a self-published novella entitled To Thee is this World Given: a slow burner that spends a few days with a handful of people surviving the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.
Yeah, I know, the internet is creaking under the weight of apocalyptica, but this one is a bit different. It’s very much character-driven, along the lines of Station Eleven which happens to be one of my favourite books. You won’t see zombies eating the lungs of their screaming victims (and yet they’re still screaming), or chiselled sweat-laden heroes dispatching the walking dead with pickaxes. If that’s your bag then this book may not be for you.
But if you’re looking for a measured, well-written (and I have to say it’s very rare that you see such care and attention devoted to a self-published novel), philosophical perspective on the end of the world, then this is probably it. It’s a great study of people and how they come to justify what they need to do to survive. You soon come to realise that the zombies are not really the problem (they’re slow, not particularly bright, and so pretty easy to avoid); the real problem is the other survivors, and the limits you set yourself in order to be one of them. Oh, and infected cuts: they can kill you too.
The writing style is crisp and lyrical (I can’t be a hundred per cent sure, but I don’t think I saw a single dialogue tag); the author makes great use of the environment to build suspense. The pace is slow, but still gripping. Some of the phrasing became repetitive at times; you can get away with this in a longer piece, but something like that does stand out in a novella. Still, the book as a whole was a highly enjoyable, wonderfully smooth read.
Seven out of ten.