Set in post-apocalyptic earth where the end has been and gone and hell has frozen over, this short novel takes you through the trials of a father and his daughter as they navigate the shell of a city, trying to survive.
Or, does it?
In essence: Flora and Jim by BP Gregory
Frozen earth, the product of irreversible climate change, the end speeded up because people eventually and ironically burned anything they could light, is a miserable, bitter place. Jim and Flora are in continual pursuit of ‘the other father’ and his son, whom Jim regards as prey for the sake of their bags carried on their backs – and perhaps also because he (and later, she) hates them for what they represent: decent, caring love and affection. The ‘better father’ – a telling phrase. They have to keep moving. No shelter can ever become home. Not least, the presence of the animals and horrific bugs and worms. As the years tick on, survival becomes more clearly pointless – at least to Flora. Jim, however, is locked into his mission, delusion the key to his disordered mind.
A haunting, haunted death of the world
This. Book. Is. Haunted. Death of everything is the theme throughout. Ghosts of the past appear in the present, with Jim’s memories first and foremost. Yet he does not remember the earth when it was warm, because he came after the end. Monsters of the present are the hastily evolved animals, ascendant in the face of man’s demise. And they are not the only creatures prepared to eat people. The insects and worms add to humankind’s decay. Flora and Jim may be moving, but they are deep in the cold, cold ground, bitten by the relentless frost, chewed upon by whatever thaws out when they light their poop patty fire, continually at risk from being devoured by the next monstrosity, be that animal, human or invertebrate.
Flora is the product of a bitter existence, face frozen into place by the cold. Her voice is quiet against the constant stream of Jim’s unreliable consciousness. Her tale is more tragic than Jim’s – much of his pain is self-inflicted from weakness and foolishness, decay of his brain cells to finish the job; hers is circumstance – a child who never played, will never know love as an emotion to be reciprocated. Humanity dies a death in Flora herself.
Will you like it?
Trite words such as 'like' don’t cover books like Flora and Jim. Deeply uncomfortable, the fear is more than the skin deep imaginings of ghouls and zombies. Horror is in the environment, the temperature so cold that balaclavas tear the skin and hair from the face. In the total loss of plant life. In the fear that mankind cannot – should not – be saved.
"Modernity left little that was safe to burn, especially around high density housing. In Amelia’s tales, folk smashed and kindled their glue-filled furnishings anyhow, not seeing a lot of choice between slow extinction or quick."
"For years the sky had glowered brown, closer than it should be. Great pillars of smog climbing against the clouds. When snow stuttered down it came clogged and grey. The last great tribute to the vanished epochs of industry."
"That’s when Aunt Amelia would laugh, because obviously the end result was that the glaciers came in so much faster. No disaster too great for humanity to find a way to fuck themselves harder."
Horror is in the lack of self-awareness of people. In insanity. In the detailed, squishy blackness of eating insects.
Meticulously researched, the unrelenting nature of life (if that’s what you can call it) after the end is laid out, word by word. You’ll find great descriptions that Gregory has worked at, deliberated upon, where she’s found the perfect combinations of words to fill your mind with images and dread:
"My anxiety eased at the sight of tumbled bluestone … Some of the heavy blocks appeared to have mysteriously erupted and slithered downhill, but I knew it was frost that did that. Squeezed them from the soil like pips."
And all the while, the overarching sense is that you experienced the whole story with a hood pulled tight over your head and face, wearing bleary goggles and a mask, like you can’t see the whole picture because your protective clothing obscures the view.
"Silence crept slyly back in to drape the street. Only the lying wind lingered, whistling in blank windows to remind us how tiny we were."
Questions abound. Does Flora really exist, or is she a figment of Jim’s gibbering imagination? Where does Jim think they are going? Is there any way for us to turn back and avoid a frozen earth as our meaningless end?
Will you like it? Probably not. But will you love it? Will you believe in it? Will you do absolutely anything to avoid this as the future for your children and grandchildren?
I hope so.
Buy your Special Edition ebook copy of Flora and Jim by BP Gregory and find out how far the author went to do her research.