Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (April 23, 2019)
Length: 384 pages
I have two dogs, and they are family. And I would do anything for family. If someone were to make off with them, you can damn well be sure I’d go to the ends of the earth to get them back. Hence it is little wonder why I was immediately drawn to the premise of this book, which spoke to me as I’m sure it speaks to dog lovers everywhere.
At its heart, A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher is a post-apocalyptic story of courage, determination and survival, with themes of friendship and unconditional love. Long after the Gelding, an event which caused sterility in most of the human population, the world has become a crumbling and empty wasteland. It’s an isolated life for our protagonist Griz, who lives with his parents, brother, sister, and dogs Jip and Jess on the coast where they are entirely self-sufficient because they have to be, for in just a few generations the number of people living on earth has decreased so drastically that you rarely meet anyone anymore.
Which is why when a boat with red sails appears on the horizon one day, everyone is excited albeit a little wary. Visitors mean news from the outside world and potential for trade, but Griz still understands the need to be careful. He does not trust the stranger, Brand, when he arrives, despite—or perhaps because of—the big man’s powerful charisma. With his exotic goods and fascinating stories, Brand charms them all, but sadly Griz’s suspicions ultimately proved to be correct when he wakes up the next morning to find the boat with the red sails gone, along with Jess. Brand had stolen away in the early hours with the family’s food stores, some of their provisions, as well as Griz’s beloved terrier, and now our protagonist will do anything to get his best friend back.
What follows is an adventure, one unlike any you’ve seen before. It is lonely and a little sad, yes, but there is also beauty in that quiet solitude. When Griz first realizes that he has lost Jess, there is a burst of confusion and panic, a wild and feverish moment where all the boy can think of is catching the thief and rescuing his dog. But after a while, that energy starts to fade, and in truth, this is where I think the novel truly starts to shine. Like Griz, you might not wish to slow down, but it is in these quieter, more subdued moments that readers are finally able to appreciate all the little things this story has to offer, and as the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, a point which this book illustrates frighteningly well.
For example, let’s start with the way this story is told. In a world where electricity is but a memory, the people in this new post-apocalyptic reality have learned ways to make their own entertainment. For Griz, his joy lay in books, from which he learned about the world before. The people who wrote them might be long gone, but their stories remain, inspiring Griz to write his own. He’s recounting his life to you personally, except “you” are actually boy from an old photograph he’s found. He imagines you in your past filled with airplanes and mobile phones, wondering what it must be like to fly or to have any information you might want to know at your fingertips. The result is a touching narrative with tragic and heart-wrenching undertones, especially since Griz’s voice comes across so personal and genuine.
I was also surprised to find that while this entire novel is based around the protagonist’s journey to get his dog back, in fact the actual search for Jess encompasses only a small part of this saga. Most of this story is Griz’s, but later on we do get to meet at least one other important character who winds up changing our protagonist’s life, teaching him lessons in friendship and loyalty. Like I said, this is a lonely book, but the few people (and dogs) we get to meet in it have such huge and flavorful personalities that at no time did the story feel empty or small.
That said, there were some pacing issues, with most of these hitches being in the middle sections given how much time Griz spends alone. But considering the limitations Fletcher had to work with, I think he did a great job pulling all the pieces of this story together. I also wish the ending had been better developed, given some of the bombshells revealed there, but because of the way this book is presented, as a kind of journal, we have a lot of restrictions on how information can be shared and explored. Again, I think the author did the best he could within the constraints.
All in all, this book was a joy to read, full of wistfulness and melancholy but also plenty of hope, love, and simple pleasures. I thought I had read it all when it comes to post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels, but books like A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World prove there are still amazing stories to be told in this genre!