I didn’t expect to enjoy Marcel Theroux’s Far North as much as I did. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting last night, finishing up a little after midnight. For an end of the world novel with little or no dialog, it was surprisingly engrossing. While the novel has some unmistakable similarities to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this book has something that McCarthy’s book was missing: hope. And that makes all the difference.
Also, characters with actual names helped.
Far North is the story of a more than probable future for our world. As global warming takes over in the south, places in northern Canada and Siberia become attractive places to settle for folks with a desire to reconnect with the land. Makepeace, our heroine, is the daughter of Quaker settlers who create the town of Evangeline somewhere in Siberia on the Arctic Circle. When we meet her, she is the only one left alive after hordes of starving people from the South overrun their town. Makepeace was a constable in those last days, and now she spend her time patrolling her town and staying alive.
After meeting a Chinese refugee and seeing a plane, Makepeace decides to make contact with the wider world. Theroux downplays the epic journey she takes by describing it in simple (but not Hemingway-simple) language, with sparse dialog. We get to tag along as she travels through the remains of her parents’ generation’s experiment in Siberia. We never quite get to see what happened to the rest of the world. Makepeace remarked at one point that there were as many answers to that question as there were people you cared to ask. The most likely one is that the earth just couldn’t support the population anymore after the climate changing effects of global warming. One character posits that the world is experiencing an extinction event.
This novel could have been as utterly depressing as The Road except for the presence of hope. In The Road, the world is clearly dying. There’s no safe place to live. There’s nothing to eat (unless you resort to cannibalism) and nothing will grow. In Far North, people can live if they can find the right place and learn how to fend for themselves. Sure, there are slavers and radiation blighted Zones and deadly Russian winters, but people like Makepeace can still survive and live.
The other thing that made this book work for me was Makepeace herself. She’s gritty, determined, sort of like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, but with two X chromosomes and a stronger sense of justice. She’s the toughest woman I’ve seen in fiction lately and, as you read, you can’t help but admire her strength. She may not say much, but you get her internal dialog all the through the book. Theroux has a light touch with the flashbacks and the historical information dumps; you mostly get this information through Makepeace’s musing. While he leaves you wanting more, Theroux doesn’t overload the book.
This book had everything I like: action, suspense, peril, believable villains, and a kickass hero. It was fantastically written with every word that needed to be there and nothing else. Excellent book.