Then (book, Julie Myerson, 2011)

From SFX #212.


Author: Julie Myerson

Publisher: Random House

Harrowing maternal fable.

A maternal counterpoint to Cormac McCarthy’s depiction of indefatigable fatherhood in The Road, Then is, if possible, even less fun.

Like The Road, Then is also hard to put down, despite the relentless parade of sleep-shattering horror. We’re talking real horror here, not of the supernatural or cartoon slasher type, but of the realisation of the terrors all parents have, the kind of cold, black, oily weight on the heart fear that makes you want to check on your own offspring as they sleep. We’ll leave it at that.

Izzy struggles to survive in a frozen London. Her perception of time is unreliable. She cannot, at first, remember her own name. Through a Memento-like trickle of flashback and recollection, Myerson unleashes an uncompromising picture of marital betrayal, the end of the world running in parallel to the end of a marriage; a lesser catastrophe, maybe, but nevertheless as devastating.

Myerson weaves past and future, cause and effect together, hinting at multiple versions of the same events playing out over and again. Izzy could be dead – the ice and fire motifs of the apocalypse have a certain hellish precedence. A more concrete indication of what’s really going on may have helped us here, but maybe not; as a portrait of the struggles between home, heart and head, Then is astonishingly powerful, haunting and disturbing, its occasionally frustrating sense of confusion fortifying Izzy’s sense of dislocation in the reader’s mind. Horrifyingly compelling.

Did you know?

Myerson’s books all concern her experiences of motherhood, so much so she fell out with her son Jake over one of them.


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