Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reader's Diary #584- Marcel Theroux: Far North

Last week I commented that Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo had a dystopian feel about it. Oddly, Marcel Theroux dystopian novel, doesn't have such a feel.

It didn't have much of a feeling at all. Set in Arctic Russia, presumably in the near future, global warming has wiped out most of humanity. With a food shortage and unbearable heat, most of the southerners that hadn't died out, ventured north to find food and cooler temperatures. Not surprisingly, hostilities flared and wars pretty much took care of the rest of the population-- with some exceptions, of course.

The most notable of the remaining survivors, to Theroux at least, is Makepeace, the daughter of religious and idealistic American expatriates, part of a wave of families who settled and created towns in remote ares of Siberia. Finding herself alone, Makepeace sets off to...

To what exactly? We're too assume she is lonely and she's off to seek other people. However, Theroux doesn't spend a lot of time inside Makepeace's head and I didn't really feel loneliness. Actually, she comes across more as someone who'd rather be alone. Plus, her plan seems wishy-washy. She seems to go at the convenience of the author, who takes her from one pseudo-adventurous vignette to another. She befriends a pregnant Chinese woman, she is kidnapped, she becomes a slave. She travels here, she travels there, she travels here again. On the surface, the book sounds like it would have potential, but it lacks emotion and direction. Covering more than five years of Makepeace's life, there seems to be almost no growth or change.

Equally as disappointing for me was the setting. While in Russia, it was also supposed to be the Arctic part, and I expected at least some similarities to my own experience. Not really. There's an occasional mention of the Tungus (a Northern Russian indigenous group now called the Evenks) and once or twice a caribou is mentioned, but little more. I didn't get any sense of Makepeace's world.

To try and liven things up, Theroux plans little surprises along the way (Makepeace's gender isn't revealed until the 3rd chapter), but even these become predictable after a while. The same second that a question would pop in my head, I'd brush it aside. Who cares? It'll be all spelled out for me 50 pages from now.

Dystopian books present a bleak outlook by their very definition. But bleak doesn't need to be boring.


Nikki in Niagara said...

Sorry you didn't like this one John! But boring!? Really?

I liked it enough to make my top books read in 2009 list!

After debating with myself, I decided that this book was not dystopian at all but rather post-apocalyptic which I think is more than semantics and makes a bit of difference in where the plot went and ended up.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: I like "post-apocalyptic" better, I think. To me, dystopia seems to imply that an aim for utopia went awry, and that's not really what happened here. So, good point.

Yeah, I found it boring. Without connecting to Makepeace, all the adventure seemed like it was going through the motions, like a flat Hollywood action flick.