John Christopher – The Death Of Grass

11Nov09

Background:

While this month, my blog entries seem to be focused a lot on the Take A Chance challenge, it’s only because the challenge is up end of month, and I am actually trying to finish it. After this, I only have one more challenge to tackle, and I’ve already started the final book (David Guterson’s East of the Mountain).

This is challenge#1, i.e. “Random Book Selection”. My random directions included going to the fiction corner at Waterstones, and selecting the fourteenth book from the third shelf on the second book-case. Coming up with a Penguin Modern Classic, I think, was a shade of luck.

I don’t normally compare or contrast books, but, the best way to define this book would be Lord of the Flies meeting The Road. Considering The Death of Grass was published in the 1950s, and The Road in the 21st century, it might not be the fairest statement, but, when I finished the book, that’s the first thing that came to my mind.

Survival of the fittest. That’s what it’s about – even if it means civilised people killing their fellow citizens, contemplating leaving a young boy to die, heartlessly killing a couple, and keeping their eyes on reaching a “safe haven” of sorts. Finding comfort in the fact that they will be able to re-acquaint themselves with humanity upon reaching this haven, the protagonists (and their countrymen) resort to barbarism and anarchism, just to survive.

He stared up at her, incredulously, while she did so, and was still staring when the bullets began tearing through his body. He shrieked once or twice, and then was quiet. She went on firing until the magazine was exhausted. There was comparative silence after that, broken only by Mary’s sobbing.

A developed country, England, is in turmoil, after the Chung-Li virus has wiped out all their “grass” and “grass crops,” including rice and wheat. The Chung-Li virus has already caused widespread disruption in Asia, and the Europeans had seen them resort to their worst sides as the resulting famine ensured the lack of food for everyone. However, they attributed the disaster to the “lack of thoroughness” of the Asiatics, and figured that being in a developed country, they would never stoop so low.

The ecosystem is collapsing, but the government issues some false press that the virus is in control, in order to calm the civilians, and prevent them from panicking and acting out of haste. However, what the government has in mind is, for lack of better words, scary. Atomic bombs can deplete life; subsequently drastically decreasing the number of mouths to feed. Aid from the United States has come to a halt, and now, England is battling alone.

John Custance, an architect in London, on a heads up from a close friend, decides to make a break for his brother’s farm in the North, with his family and close friends. There, he figures, they will all be safe, until the crisis is over, and they can return to normalcy.

However, what ensues begs the question: Can their lives ever return to what it used to be like? The journey up North is difficult, violent, and life-changing in every way imaginable. People kill for food, for shelter, for survival. The fall of the government has just led to people’s darker sides taking over, and we see brutal scenes of rape, as well as, pure cold-blooded killing. Some members of the group are trying to hold on to their humanity. Some have left it behind, with the single goal of reaching the farm in mind.

This is a bleak depressing book, which makes me question my faith in humanity. When push comes to shove, will we resort to killing our own to survive? When the ecosystems break down, will we sacrifice everything that supposedly differentiates us from other beings, just to make it? Will we do anything in the world to protect our friends, families and loved ones? Even if it means compromising on the ideals we’ve always believed in?

Just as most of the book is bleak and disheartening, the ending is unbelievably despondent, and you’re just left gaping, wondering how on earth did humanity end up like this. And then, you thank your stars that this is merely fiction…

…But, for how long?

Can you imagine killing someone in cold blood, just because they have shelter and food? And how would you react when you knew the odds were against you, but, you knew exactly what you had to do if you wanted to live another day?

Rating : A

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6 Responses to “John Christopher – The Death Of Grass”

  1. For some reason I heard about this book last week and really wanted to read it, so was very excited to see that you were reading it. I love the sound of this book and am going to add it to my wishlist – thanks for the great review.

    • It’s a weird one – I hadn’t even heard of this book, ’til I stumbled upon this challenge, and now I’m seeing it everywhere. I really hope you read it soon, and that you find it as fascinating and compelling as I did.

  2. As you know, I have also just read this (based on a recommendation from Sarah over at Sarah’s books) and I hadn’t realised that you were reading it due to a rather random selection method!

    It was a good book and I am glad I read it, despite its bleakness. The Day of the Triffids is to be recommended if you enjoyed this book.

    • I haven’t heard of The Day Of The Triffids to be honest, but I’ll add it to the wishlist.

      Sometimes, random book selections work out well – I was really surprised at how well this one panned out.

  3. Nice review! You should definitely contrast and compare in future. I didn’t make the connection with The Road; maybe I define it more by style than content… But I liked the comparison, because it is almost two opposing points of view. In The Road the protagonists more or less retain their humanity, whilst The Death of Grass is more like following the maurauders of The Road. Thanks for the thought provoking comparison.

    I agree that this is a great, if not precisely enjoyable, novel. It took me places I really didn’t want to go.

    Can’t believe that your random choice worked out this well! Sure you didn’t cheat?! I just know I would have ended up with Danielle Steele or Katie Price…

    • This book did make me shudder, and I honestly don’t want to believe that when things get bad, humanity will degenerate so quickly.

      I can’t believe it either. I half-want to do this more often now – go into a bookstore and randomly pick out a book. Nah, I didn’t cheat, although when I initially saw the book, I did think : do I really want to read this? I’m glad I did though…

      Katie Price……. reaaaaallllllllllyyyyyyyyyyy? :)


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