I blame Danny Boyle. Ever since he rebooted horror cinema with 28 Days Later, pop culture has been wall-to-wall zombies. Now I like a good “zombocalypse” scenario as much as anyone, but I do think the genre is getting a little stale. What about all the other cracking apocalypses out there? Killer robots. Monstrous megaworms. Demonic mushrooms. Hell, even good ol’ fashioned psychotic aliens don’t get the screentime they used to.
The apocalypse at the heart of The End of the World Running Club is asteroids, so if nothing else, we should give Adrian J Walker some credit for not resorting to the obvious.The ‘apocalypse novel’ is a genre in its own right, with a number of exceptional books that are worth anyone’s time. I Am Legend (forget the Will Smith film) by Richard Matheson is a stunning piece of stripped-down writing with a truly haunting ending. World War Z (forget the Brad Pitt film) by Max Brooks is a smart and witty take on how different countries would respond to a zombie pandemic. Day of the Triffids (haven’t seen the film) by John Wyndham is the grandfather of all of these, showing how a good storyteller can make even a shrubbery seem terrifying.
The End of the World Running Club is not a patch on any of these. It is pure beach-read trash. However, accepting it on those terms, it certainly keeps you entertained. Neglectful dad Edgar gets separated from his family following a series of sudden asteroid strikes that devastate Britain. He has 3 weeks to get from Edinburgh to Cornwall, where he hopes his wife and children will be waiting for him along with the rescue boats. When it becomes obvious that travel by car will be impossible, he realises that his best hope lies in running the length of the country. Along the way he teams up with some larger-than-life characters and encounters villains, eccentric survivors and people building new ways of life amid the ruins.
The book it reminded me of the most was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, another dystopian nightmare which unfolds in a series of episodic and disturbing encounters. Despite its credentials as a Serious Work of Literature, I’m not a fan of The Road – I found it too unremittingly bleak – so by comparison The End of the World Running Club is a lot more fun.
That being said, I can’t say I cared much for any of the characters, and Edgar is such a cartoonishly rubbish dad at the outset that I felt his family were probably better off without him. And while I’m not a prude, I could also have done without the constant swearing, which becomes tiresome and loses its impact if everyone says “we’re f—ed” every third page.
In short, this is fluff, but an easy read, and there is something pleasingly British about the goal of the story being about getting to Cornwall. However, I’m still waiting to read a truly good novel about running. Maybe I should write it myself. Hmmm, wait a minute, in their modern incarnation, zombies can run…