Sunday, 2 August 2015

"One" by Conrad Williams

This is no country he knows, and no place he ever wants to see, even in the shuttered madness of his worst dreams. But Richard Jane survived. He walks because he has no choice and at the end of this molten road, running along the spine of a burned, battered country, his son may be alive. The sky crawls with venomous cloud and burning rain while the land is a scorched sprawl of rubble and corpses. Rats have risen from the depths to gorge on the carrion, and a glittering dust coats everything. It hides a terrible secret as new horrors take root. He walks on, with one hope.

Any book which makes me go to bed early to read it is already doing something right.

This is The Road, set in Britain, but with correct use of apostrophes.

Actually, that undersells it. It is its own complicated beast. But we travel with a father. Such an intense focus on one mind works for immersion, even if having an unreliable narrator sometimes irritates. It's like being inside someone else's head, wanting to control their body, to make them ask a question or look at a certain thing so you can find out more, but their head stubbornly refuses to move. It has its own agenda. You are a passenger, with your own intelligence, along for the ride.

The prose is sparse and often beautiful.

The book entertained. It finished with plenty to think about. It sustains itself and reader interest. ONE star short of five.

*** Spoilers below. ***

Don't read on if you've yet to finish the book.

You were warned.

I knocked off one star because there are niggles, which I'll cram at the end out of sight in the shadows of spoilerville. Don't take them as my final thoughts - I've already praised the book. More a chance for me to vomit out some crunchy bits.

For example, the tiger as a motif - great. One tiger, one focus for significance. Then the protagonist encounters a tiger in the zoo. It seems to be more decayed than the one encountered earlier. "The tail had long since worn away." So... is this the same tiger he'd encountered only a few days before, but now described in more detail? Had it rotted in the short time, even though it had presumably been wandering for ten years? Or is this a different tiger, confusing the motif when a different antagonist could have kept things simpler? I think it is the same one, but had to go back and re-read section to check.

The ending - yes, some lack of clarity there. Again, understandable because of the main character's focus, but as a reader you wonder how much is real. In fact, the whole white scarf/masked Shaded subplot doesn't fully resolve, despite a helpful paragraph where the main character imagines what might have happened. We think back to when the main scarf girl first appeared. It wasn't long after things started, 6 weeks maybe, is that enough time for a sick girl to develop superhuman killing, tracking and sneaking powers? To enable a girl to enter and leave locked rooms without leaving a trace? For whole groups of them to meet up, get organised, create a subculture, elect a leader and start their ten-year skulking campaign? I'm not sure.


  1. I'm torn between trying it, and being scared that it'll just be too OTT for me. I managed the road, although my memory of that is 'grey dust'. The promise of correct punctuation though is always a plus.