Stiff Upper Lip, Apocalypse Version

by Denise D. 


Packing for the annual visit with family, I quickly skimmed my To Be Read (TBR) pile. Plentiful reading options are the travel essential. Even for a last-minute packer.

Later, as the 737 filled, I scanned my choices. Predominantly dystopian tales set in England? Well, that’s one way to put holiday travel into perspective!

Taking Off


Whilst everyone jockeyed for overhead space, I delved into the paperback I discovered in an Amsterdam used bookstore this March. (The Ship had yet to be published in the United States and I could not refuse a book captioned “The Hunger Games meets the London riots on board Noah’s Ark.”)

Narrated by teenager Lalla, born at the start of “The Collapse,” the novel’s reflective voice immediately captivated me. I inhaled the bleak details of a future London under a repressive regime, where identity cards are essential and yet constantly at risk, people huddle in the British Museum for shelter, and violence and starvation are the norm.

Unfortunately, it was this conflict that grabbed me. When the setting moved to a well-stocked ship and the story focused on relationships rather than the state of the world, my attention waned. The setting, however, is unforgettable and I would read any sequel that might come along.

Getting Sick

Perhaps it was the flight, but my husband caught a nasty virus. Good-bye, date nights with grandparent babysitting. Hello, reading! When your spouse is feverish and coughing, what’s better than a dystopian thriller about a deadly virus gone horribly awry?  With a murder mystery added in for more spark?

Narrated by a spunky shopping channel hostess with a complicated romantic life, A Lovely Way to Burn begins, “London witnessed three shootings that summer, by men who were part of the Establishment.” The gun-toting sniper-turned-politician, hedge-fund manager and vicar don’t play a role in the rest of the novel. But their violent rampages surely set the menacing tone for this suspenseful tale of a pandemic wreaking havoc on our world. You might even forget that it was supposed to be date night.

This tale is the first in a planned trilogy, Plague Times. The second installment, Death is a Welcome Guest, is on my For Later shelf. Hopefully, nobody in my house is coughing when I read it…


Carrying On


After so much disease, death, and destruction, I was relieved to end my reading with some hope. Like the holidays themselves, my final two selections centered around family.

The most poetic journey I took into a dystopian London was The End We Start From, a lyrical meditation on mothering a newborn and a hopeful ode to our future survival. A mere two hours in length, the audiobook is both gentle and intense.

Equally moving, Clade tells a similar tale of family fortitude against a collapsing climate. Ice melt, fertility treatment, monsoons, postpartum depression, heat waves, life-threatening asthma, bee colony collapse, teen angst, cataclysmic wildfires, autism…. All the familiar messiness and squabbles of family life are here. As the planet contorts into its new form, the perseverance of family and human connection leaves us with a glimmer of hope.

Much like the winter holidays.


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