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A BOY AND HIS DOG AT THE END OF THE WORLD

A Nearly Dog Gone World

C. A. Fletcher
C. A. Fletcher
B+
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” Those words by T.S. Eliot came immediately and often to mind when I was reading C. A. Fletcher’s offbeat novel, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World. Because, in this often touching and always intriguing book, the world has been brought down, not by some nuclear holocaust or ecological catastrophe, but, rather, by a gradual dying-off of a population that had been largely rendered sterile by some unknown reason (an event referred to as “the gelding”). Other words also came to mind when reading the book, like Dylan Thomas’ saying: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” For this novel is the story of one teenage boy who sets off in a rage to make at least one small thing right in his possibly dying world.
 
The boy is Griz, (the few remaining people on Earth aren’t big on fancy names), and he’s about 14 or 15. He lives with his parents, brother, and sister on a small island off the coast of Scotland, as they eke out a meager existence by engaging in very basic fishing and farming. Everything that Griz knows about civilization and history consists of a handful of late-night stories and the contents of books that’s he’s been able to find in abandoned houses and read. Griz’s life comes crashing down when an overly friendly stranger named Brand arrives on the island, offering to barter with Griz’s father. But barter becomes theft when the stranger drugs the family’s food and absconds on his boat with various possessions, including Griz’s pet dog, Jess. Fertile female dogs are as rare in Griz’s world as fertile female humans so Jess would be a precious commodity for Brand. However, the thief didn’t reckon with Griz’s determination and ingenuity, as the youngster somewhat impulsively loads up his own boat and, accompanied by Jess’s littermate Jip, searches for Brand. The hunt soon leads to the mainland of England, where Griz has a pretty good idea where Brand is headed. However, to get to Brand’s presumed lair, Griz must walk across nearly the entire island, with only his dog, his wits, and his imagination for company.
 
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is structured in the form of a notebook that Griz writes detailing his journey. Griz imagines that he is writing to a long-dead boy whose photograph he saw in a house on a neighboring island. This somewhat unusual narrative convention winds up being quite effective for the most part. As he travels across England, Griz proves to be quite observant, but, to paraphrase the Biblical phrase, he sees, but he does not understand. He is also somewhat naïve and very inexperienced in the ways of the former world. As a result, the narrative reflects the various mistakes he makes along the way. Some are rather humorous, as when he calls a Frenchwoman he meets by what the name he mistakenly interprets as John Dark, rather than the actual name she has whimsically given herself, Jeanne d’Arc. However, Griz’s other misconceptions and lack of knowledge sometimes get him into trouble.
 
As in most post-apocalyptic stories, the world that author Fletcher creates can be quite dangerous, but it’s a different type of danger than what readers usually find in this sort of book. Although A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World takes place only a couple of generations after the earth’s population is mostly extinguished, in that time Mother Nature has reclaimed a great deal of the English countryside and the cities to boot. Reading the book reminded me of the TV series Life After People, which tried to predict what would happen to our structures and civilization if people abruptly vanished. The author has obviously done his research on the subject since he describes at length (sometimes a bit too much length) how quickly native vegetation and wildlife have reclaimed the land and how various structures decayed, rusted, and crumbled. The result is a world that appears deceptively peaceful and tranquil, but one in which Griz or any of the handful of other people he encounters in his travels could find themselves in deadly peril from hidden pitfalls or dangerous animals in an instant.
 
From this discussion, you might think that A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is simply an action adventure. It’s much more than that. The action scenes are exciting and suspenseful but relatively infrequent. Instead, the book is more of a haunting, bittersweet story of a boy trying to come to grasp with a world that’s fallen apart, with only his undying love for his dogs (more than for the human family members he readily left behind) and his sense of justice to guide him.
 
It’s here that the author’s choice of narrative suits him well. For much of what Griz recounts in his notebook are heartfelt, often sad, meditations on what he has discovered, addressed to a boy in a photograph who lived years earlier. At times, Griz asks the boy in the photo about the world of the past, desperately trying to figure it out. At other times, he tries to explain his decisions and reveals thought processes that are flawed in a typically juvenile manner and which sometimes led him into making rash or bad decisions. Throughout the book, Griz pretty much wears his emotions on his sleeve in a way that draws readers right into the story with him. The overall effect of this type of narration is to turn an adventure story into a very believable coming-of-age tale that’s a combination of hard knocks and alternating bouts of youthful optimism and depression.
 
Fletcher’s narrative style, while one of the books great strengths, is, at times its biggest weakness. Unfortunately, the author engages in frequent bouts of “had I but known” storytelling. On several occasions, to the point of annoyance at times, Griz expresses his regret about not knowing what came next when he took some misguided action, dropping cryptically veiled hints about what happens next. This didn’t strike me as the way a 15-year-old boy who is quite open about his feelings and emotions might write a journal to an imaginary penpal. Instead, it struck me as a device employed by an adult author to build suspense in a story that really didn’t need it.
 
Aside from the author’s occasionally overwrought literary devices, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a solid read. On one level, it’s well-thought-out speculative science fiction about what realistically would happen in a world beset by such a catastrophic development. But on a deeper level, it’s an eternal story of a young boy coming of age in a challenging environment and how his harsh experiences mold him in some ways yet leave his core beliefs standing in others. It’s certainly a book that welcomes a second reading (even though the author strongly cautions about avoiding spoilers in reviews, the book is actually better in some regards knowing what’s going to happen). Readers will be glad they went along to the end of this world.   
My thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers who invited me to participate in this blog tour and graciously provided me with a copy of the book. Here are some other reviews of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World from the tour:

C. A. Fletcher began by studying an MA in English Literature at St Andrews, Scotland. From there he went on to work for the BBC before going to the University of Southern California School of Film and Television in Los Angeles to study screenwriting. He lived and worked in America for seven more years before returning to live in Scotland. He has written for TV, film (he wrote the screenplay for Mean Machine, the British remake of The Longest Yard) and worked as a newspaper columnist and restaurant reviewer, before turning his hand to novel writing. Under the name, Charlie Fletcher, he has written several acclaimed fantasy books, including Stoneheart and Oversight. Fletcher lives and writes in Edinburgh with his wife and two children.

 

Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFletch_r / Website: http://www.charliefletcher.com / Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2XVMxvJ / Amazon Charlie Fletcher author page: https://amzn.to/2ZChM0h

OTHER BOOKS BY CHARLIE FLETCHER:

 

A Boy and His Dog Blog Tour