I had never heard of this second novel by Adrian J Walker until it was featured on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 2 Book Club and highly recommended. Being a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, this novel sounded like it had a quirky development on the sub-genre and so I quickly picked it up. The UK paperback was published by Delreyuk in June earlier this year, interestingly, it had been previously self-published by the author in 2014. I’ve read more than my fair share of self-published nonsense, however, this wasn’t one of them and was easily as good as the cream of self-published novels, comfortably matching Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’ and Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’. I have no idea whether the self-published version made any kind of impact, or whether it went through a further edit, but this paperback version has already made a splash and has picked up lots of great reviews.
Although ‘The End of the World Running Club’ isn’t strictly a horror novel, it’s a highly enjoyable and fresh addition to a genre than never seems to run out of steam. The first thing I loved about this engaging novel was the fact it was set in Scotland! I loved the descriptions of a destroyed Edinburgh Castle and the jagged ruins of the rock left behind and the remains of Glasgow turning into a swampland. As a Scotsman who has been in exile for more than twenty years I got really into the journey for survival as the group of friends trekked, ran, and shambled their way down into the lowlands of Scotland and into an equally desolate North England.
As I write this I’m seriously fighting the urge to use puns which reference running…. So suffice to say I jogged through this 440 page odyssey at a steady pace and found the style very easy as I sprinted to the finish in a manner in which Mo Farah would be proud! It was a good old fashioned page turner, simple as that. What I found particularly entertaining was the fact that it didn’t stray into the many scenarios and stereotypes of post-apocalyptic fiction. There was no sign of Mad Max, cannibalism (yet or maybe?) or mad bikers in leather jackets. It was all very believable and cleverly played with the class-system we are all used to. In one great sequence the main characters are stalked by housing scheme NEDs and in another the middle class survivors just seem too polite to survive and we have a quirky take on the theory of survival of the fittest. I really liked the group of main characters when they hit the road south, sure they were a motley crew, but I was egging them on.
The plot is really simple: a massive asteroid storm destroys large swathes of the northern hemisphere. We never find out how much. Edgar Hill, 35, his wife and two kids, survive as they have a basement in their small Edinburgh house. Much of the local population (Edgar is English) is killed. How this all happens plays out beautifully, first thing: the wifi-fi goes off, then the Sky Box and so on. Edgar and his family move to a safe haven with other survivors, however, he is accidently separated by his family. The story then moves on a bit and Edgar exists as a survival scavenger and realises that if he is to reunited with his family he has to get to Cornwall by the end of the year, less than two months, as there are boats taking survivors to South Africa, or anyway. The race is on.
So much of the book is about the journey. Other reviews have commented negatively about what a moan and a whinger Edgar was, not me though, this is how the guy changes, his own personal journey if you like. This is also where the title comes from ‘The End of the World Running Club’, as he and his friends realise that if they want to get to Cornwall in time they need to run some or much of the way. Edgar is fat, unfit and both a bad and lazy father, but slowly he manages to run further and further as he gets both fitter and leaner. The group he travels and runs with are all lovely characters and the banter they bounce off each other is really funny. Along the way there are various trials, nutters, weirdos and a journey of self discovery. Sure you could argue it is nothing new, but it was such a well written story I’m sure many GNoH readers would enjoy it. The ordinariness of it all was hard to beat and the descriptions of the jagged changes to the geography of the UK because of the meteors were really top notch.
There is a lot of running in this book and the balance between this and the post-apocalyptic world worked really well for me. And the fact that the meteor storm happened in the course of the novel made this apocalypse really vivid as we lived it through it with Edgar and his mates made these very normal guys easy to root for and care about. I loved it and am very happy to recommend it.