National Book Award Finalist for Fiction
My father had an expression for a thing that turned out bad. He'd say it had gone west. But going west always sounded pretty good to me. After all, westwards is the path of the sun. And through as much history as I know of, people have moved west to settle and find freedom. But our world had gone north, truly gone north, and just how far north I was beginning to learn.
Out on the frontier of a failed state, Makepeacesheriff and perhaps last citizenpatrols a city's ruins, salvaging books but keeping the guns in good repair.
Into this cold land comes shocking evidence that life might be flourishing elsewhere: a refugee emerges from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to reconnect with human society and take to the road, armed with rough humor and an unlikely ration of optimism.
What Makepeace finds is a world unraveling: stockaded villages enforcing an uncertain justice and hidden work camps laboring to harness the little-understood technologies of a vanished civilization. But Makepeace's journeyrife with dangeralso leads to an unexpected redemption.
Far North takes the reader on a quest through an unforgettable arctic landscape, from humanity's origins to its possible end. Haunting, spare, yet stubbornly hopeful, the novel is suffused with an ecstatic awareness of the world's fragility and beauty, and its ability to recover from our worst trespasses.
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About the Author
Marcel Theroux is the author of A Blow to the Heart, A Stranger in the Earth, and The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. He lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
Every day I buckle on my guns and go out to patrol this dingy city.
I’ve been doing it so long that I’m shaped to it, like a hand that’s been carrying buckets in the cold.
The winters are the worst, struggling up out of a haunted sleep, fumbling for my boots in the dark. Summer is better. The place feels almost drunk on the endless light and time skids by for a week or two. We don’t get much spring or fall to speakof. Up here, for ten months a year, the weather has teeth in it.
It’s always quiet now. The city is emptier than heaven. But before this, there were times so bad I was almost thankful for a clean killing between consenting adults.
Yes, somewhere along the ladder of years I lost the bright-eyed best of me.
Way back, in the days of my youth, there were fat and happy times. The year ran like an orderly clock. We’d plant out from the hothouses as soon as the earth was soft enough to dig. By June we’d be sitting on the stoop podding broad beans until our shoulders ached. Then there were potatoes to dry, cabbages to bring in, meats to cure, mushrooms and berries to gather in the fall. And when the cold closed in on us, I’d go hunting and ice fishing with my pa. We cooked omul and moose meat over driftwood fires at the lake. We rode up the winter roads to buy fur clothes and caribou from the Tungus.
We had a school. We had a library where Miss Grenadine stamped books and read to us in winter by the wood-burning stove.
I can remember walking home after class across the frying pan in the last mild days before the freeze and the lighted windows sparkling like amber, and ransacking the trees for buttery horse chestnuts, and Charlo’s laughter tinkling up through the fog, as my broken branch went thwack! thwack! and the chestnuts pattered around us on the grass.
The old meetinghouse where we worshipped still stands on the far side of the town. We used to sit there in silence, listening to the spit and crackle of the logs.
The last time I went in there was five years ago. I hadn’t been inside for years and when I was a child I’d hated every stubborn minute I’d been made to sit there.
It still smelled like it used to: well-seasoned timber, whitewash, pine needles. But the settles had all been broken up to be burned and the windows were smashed. And in the corner of the room, I felt something go squish under the toe of my boot.It turned out to be someone’s fingers. There was no trace of the rest of him. I live in the house I grew up in, with the well in the courtyard and my father’s workshop much as it was in my childhood, still taking up the low building next to the side gate.
In the best room of the house, which was kept special for Sundays, and visitors, and Christmas, stands my mother’s pianola,and on it a metronome, and their wedding photograph, and a big gilded wooden M that my father made when I was born.
As my parents’ first child, I bore the brunt of their new religious enthusiasm, hence the name, Makepeace. Charlo was born two years later, and Anna the year after that.
Makepeace. Can you imagine the teasing I put up with at school? And my parents’ displeasure when I used my fists to defend myself?
But that’s how I learned to love fighting.
I still run the pianola now and again, there’s a box of rolls that still work, but the tuning’s mostly gone. I haven’t got a good enough ear to fix it, or a bad enough one not to care that I can’t.
It’s almost worth more to me as firewood. Some winters I’ve looked at it longingly as I sat under a pile of blankets, teeth chattering in my head, snow piled up to the eaves, and thought to myself, Damn it, take a hatchet to it, Makepeace, and be warm again! But it’s a point of pride with me that I never have. Where will I get another pianola from? And just because I can’t tune the thing and don’t know anybody who can, that doesn’t mean that person doesn’t exist, or won’t be born one day. Our generation’s not big on reading or tuning pianolas. But our parents and their parents had plenty to be proud of. Just look at that thing if you don’t believe me: the burl on the maple veneer, and the workmanship on her brass pedals. The man who made that cared about what he was doing. He made that pianola with love. It’s not for me to burn it.
The books all belonged to my folks. Charlo and my ma were the big readers. Except for that bottom shelf. I brought those back here myself.
Usually when I come across books I take them to an old armory on Delancey. It’s empty now, but there’s so much steel in the outer door, you’d need a keg of gunpowder to get to them without the key. As I said, I don’t read them myself, but it’s important to put them aside for someone who will. Maybe it’s written in one of them how to tune a pianola.
I found them like this: I was going down Mercer Street one morning. It was deep winter. Snow every where, but no wind, and the breath from the mare’s nostrils rising up like steam from a kettle. On a windless day, the snow damps the sound, and the silence every where is eerie. Just that crunch of hooves, and those little sighs of breath from the animal.
All of a sudden, there’s a crash, and a big armful of books flops into the snow from what must have been the last unbroken window on the entire street until that moment. The horse reared up at the sound. When I had her calm again, I looked up at the window, and what do you know, there’s a little figure hang-dropping into the books.
He’s bundled up in a bulky blue one-piece and fur hat. Now he’s gathering up the books and fixing to leave.
I shouted out to him, "Hey. What are you doing? Leave those books, damn it. Can’t you find something goddamn else to burn?"—along with a few other choice expressions.
Then, just as quick as he appeared, he flung down his armful of books and reached to draw a gun.
Next thing, there’s a pop and the horse rears again and the whole street is more silent than before.
I dismounted, easy does it, with my gun drawn and smoking and go over to the body. I’m still a little high from the draw, but already I’m getting that heavyhearted feeling and I know I won’t sleep tonight if he dies. I feel ashamed.
He’s lying still, but breathing very shallow. His hat came off as he fell. It lies in the snow a few steps away from him, among the books. He’s much smaller than he seemed a minute earlier. It turns out he’s a little Chinese boy. And instead of agun, he was reaching for a dull Bowie knife on his hip that you’d struggle to cut cheese with.
Well done, Makepeace.
He comes to slightly, grunting with the pain, and tries to push me away from him. "Let me have a look at where you’re hit. I can help you. I’m the constable here." But his clothes are too thick for me to examine him, and it’s too dangerous to linger here, unarmed and dismounted, especially in daylight.
It’s not going to be comfortable, but the only thing for it is to move him. Better get the books as well, so the whole escapade hasn’t been fruitless. I toss them into a burlap sack. The boy weighs nothing. It’s heartbreaking. What is he? Fourteen? I lift him onto the saddle and he rides in front of me, drifting in and out of consciousness until we get back.
The good news is he’s still breathing. His arms reach feebly for my shoulders as I help him dismount. I know the pain is not so terrible for him yet. The body makes its own opium when it’s been hit. But in the middle of that feeling, there’s alsoa sensation of injustice. That you’ve broken something you don’t know how to fix, and you won’t be the same again.
Once down, the boy refused to let me near him. As much as I tried to explain that I was sorry I’d hurt him and I wanted to help, he’d just slap my hand away. It was clear that we didn’t have a common language. There are some tongues where you canget, say, one word in five or ten, and it’s enough to make some sense of one another. We had nothing.
I gave him a pitcher of hot water on a tray, and some long tweezers, and gauze, and carbolic soap, and left him to it. And I locked him in, just to be safe.
The books from the burlap bag I put on the shelves in the living room. They were all odd sizes, so they didn’t fit into neat rows like my parents’ books. Some of them were picture books. I wondered if the boy was going to read them or burn them. I was pretty sure I knew the answer.
A burned book always makes my heart sink a little.
Every time I used a bullet, I made myself five more immediately. That had been my rule for a while. My bullets worked out pretty expensive, both in terms of time and the fuel it took to smelt them. It wasn’t really economical to make them in suchsmall quantities.
But what I figured was this: you can always find more fuel if you run out, chop out some hardwood and make charcoal— even burn the pianola, god help me, if you have to—but you must never let things slide, get casual, and run low on shells.
If you can find someone who’ll trade with you, sure enough, a bullet has a market price. But say someone picks a fight withyou, hunts you down with a posse of his friends. What price a bullet then? What price not to hear your gun go click on an empty chamber?
Plus, I liked making them. I like what happens to the metal as it melts down. I liked to crouch over the crucible, watchingthe flame through the smoked glass lenses that belonged to my father, watching the lead run like quicksilver. I liked the transformation and the cold, ugly slugs that I broke out of the sand in the molds in the morning.
The trouble, of course, is that my shells were none too clean. If I ever get shot again, I hope it’s with a nice shiny bullet of surgical steel, not with one of my ugly things that looks like something someone dropped on a farrier’s floor and carries god knows what dirt and germs in it.
After I’d made my five bullets, I carried up some food and water and a light for the spirit lamp by the boy’s bedside. He was plainly feverish. Eyes closed but flickering under the lids. Short, bristly black lashes. His blue-black hair on the pillow put me in mind of a crow’s wing. Muttering in that language of his.
The po was empty, but I took away the boy’s stinking blue one-piece. He could have some of Charlo’s old clothes if he lived.
At first light I took him up some breakfast.
There was nothing yellow about his skin. It was as white as bone. Faint black hair on his sideboards, but no beard or mustache to speak of.
He’d eaten all the food I’d left him, but as I cast around for the chamber pot he grew agitated. He was bashful. I knew then that I’d like him: I’d almost killed him, but he was shy for me to see his shit. How like a boy.
I tried to make clear as best I could in gestures that he was to stay in bed and rest. He still looked none too good. But I’d only just mucked out the horses when he appeared in the courtyard, looking even younger and smaller in Charlo’s plaid jacket and his slippers. He was unsteady on his pins, but he made his way over to the stall to watch me giving the mare her feed, and
the sight of the horse seemed to please him.
"Ma," he said, pointing at her.
I started to explain how I never named the animals, just called them the mare, the roan, the gray. It doesn’t seem right to give a name to something you’re going to kill and eat one day. And it goes down easier as plain horseflesh than as a chunk of Adamski or Daisy-May. But there was no way to make the boy understand, so from then on, the mare became "Ma."
And then he pointed to himself and the word he said sounded most of all like "Ping." That’s right. Ping. Like the bell on a shop counter. Like a button popping off your shirt. Or a snapped banjo string. I wondered what kind of heathen name that was, or if there was a Saint Ping that no one had told me about.
But Ping he was. A name’s a name. And so I introduced myself to him. I pointed to myself and I said my name. "Makepeace."
He looked all quizzical, squinted up his face as if he hadn’t heard right, and he wasn’t sure if he dared say the word. So I said it again. "Makepeace."
Now his face broke out in a broad grin. "Make a piss?"
I looked at him careful, but he wasn’t trying to poke fun at me, he just thought that was my name. And it seemed funny, since I had some laughs on account of his name, that he had made such a mess of mine.
There wasn’t any point in having Ping in my home and not trusting him. I’m ornery and solitary and suspicious and that’s how I’ve stayed alive so long. The last person other than me to sleep under that roof was Charlo, and that was more than ten years earlier. But it seemed to me then, it still does now, that if you let someone in, you should let them all the way in. Whenever I rode out of the courtyard, I took the view that everyone I met was, one way or another, planning to kill or rob me. But I couldn’t live like that in my own home. I decided to trust Ping, not because I had a gut instinct about him—I didn’t know him from the oriental Adam—but because that was the only way I could live.
And yet, I was still a little surprised when I rode back in at lunchtime to find my locks intact, and the firewood still stacked neatly, and the chickens pecking, and the cabbages and apples in the root cellar undisturbed. There was no sign of Ping, though, and I confess that at that moment, I felt sad at the thought that he might have left.
I clattered up to the second story in my boots, hallooing on the stairs. No sign of him. I burst into Charlo’s room and was taken aback by the scene I found.
There was Ping, with a looking-glass in front of him, and my ma’s old embroidery case, and the spirit lamp burning away, and he was taking the old steel needles one by one, waving them in the flame, and sticking them into the flesh of his ears.
He smiled to see me, and laughed at my consternation. His whole ear bristled like porcupine quills. It must have pained him dreadfully, but he didn’t seem put out by it. In fact, he just went right on sticking them into his ears. And when he’d done that, he put one or two in his nose, and one or two in his shoulder for good mea sure.
I’ve a strong stomach. I have to. But the sight of that made me come over a bit queer. Ping gave me to understand that he wasn’t crazy, that the needles were intended to do him some good for the wound in his shoulder. But what white or black magic that was, I’m afraid I can’t tell you.
Excerpted from Far North by Marcel Theroux.
Copyright © 2009 by Marcel Theroux
Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Reading Group Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Far North are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Far North.
1. Given that she barely reads, why does Makepeace make such a point of preserving books for posterity?
2. The author Arthur C. Clarke famously said " any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". How does this relate to the world of Far North? How much of the technology that you use every day operates on principles that you understand? What are the implications of a society that increasingly depends on incomprehensibly sophisticated forms of technology?
3. What's the difference between Makepeace's evaluation of herself and the way she comes across to the reader?
4. How does Makepeace feel about herself in relation to her ancestors? Is she right to feel this way?
5. Is Makepeace convincingly female?
6. What is the effect of the author withholding information about Makepeace's gender?
7. Eben Callard mentions something called Daniel's Fire. What do you think this is?
8. Why do Makepeace's family leave the U.S.? What is the attraction of a fresh start? What are they fleeing from?
9. To what extent are you persuaded that man-made climate change is a real problem? What evidence would it take to persuade or dissuade you of its importance? Why do you think it inspires such strong views? What position does the author of Far North appear to take?
10. Is this is a despairing book? What consolation does it offer us?
11. Makepeace lives several generations into the future. How does our life look to her? How do the lives of your grandparents and great-grandparents look to you?
12. It's an underlying assumption of modern life that the future will be better than the past. Why is this necessarily the case? Has it always been true?
13. Makepeace feels that Shamsudin represents a different kind of person from her. What is the difference between them as Makepeace perceives it?
14.What does the future hold for Makepeace's daughter?
15. In Chekhov's play, "Three Sisters", Vershinin says: "It could be that our present life, which seems so normal to us, will in time seem strange, uncomfortable, mindless, unclean, and perhaps even corrupt." How does this relate to the aims of speculative fiction?
16. Life on earth will end one day. How, if at all, is this fact relevant to the way we live now?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great read. I really enjoyed this book. Reviews complaining about the typos are done by people who didn't finish the book. They have a special purpose. I loved The Road by McCarthy, but I honestly thought this was a better story by miles, and it had more meaning and feeling in my mind. I highly recommend this book!
One of my first books to read on Nook. Don't know anything about the author, but thought the name of the book intriguing. I lived in Alaska for 14 years so I could easily associate with the cold winters and short summers. I couldn't put it down. Fascinating story with lots of strange twists and turns. I get emotionally involved with characters so I liked Makepeace! Not only was she brutalized, she brutalized others, but she did things just to survive. It isn't just another end-of-times survivalist story. I highly recommend it.
A good story with action. Well fleshed out characters.
Future survival at its best.
This book is beautifully written. I love apocalyptic novels, but many of them arent very well written. This one really stands out. The negative reviews baffle me.
Far North was on my wishlist for about two years when it came up as a Group Read for a group on Goodreads that I belong to. It was the perfect excuse to finally buy it and I was really looking forward to it – post-apocalyptic, a solitary character who decides to reconnect with the remnants of humanity and set in harsh landscape. Should have been my cup of tea. This book is beautifully written in a bleak, harsh and short way, full of twists that I didn’t see coming, and gradually reveals its secrets at the right parts of the story. Without giving away too many twists and secrets, I just found this book a pretty hard slog – I didn’t find the character of Makepeace interesting in the least, the secondary characters seemed two-dimensional with little substance to even make me curious about them and found the ending unsatisfactory apart from the fact that it meant I was finally finished. As I said at the beginning, perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this book. Of course that does not make it a bad book, and as one friend said ‘it’s written like a western’ (thanks Alison!), which is spot-on – so if that type of writing appeals to you, then you should just ignore me and try it for yourself.
but the author's knowledge of global warming is questionable. Good thing is scifi.
Stunning. Stark. Riveting. Powerful. Plausible.Oh, I could come up with many more adjectives to describe this new release from Harper Collins Canada.Far North by British author Marcel Theroux captured me from the first page, threw me for a loop on page 23 and held on to me 'til the last page. I'm still thinking about it.Far North takes place up near the Arctic Circle in Siberia. Years before, when many were tired of the way the world was headed, they chose to build a new lives and new cities in this frontier. Makepeace was born here to Quaker parents and knows no other world. But Makepeace is the last one standing. The city has emptied, with others killed by violence and disease or making a desperate run to survive. The details are left to us to imagine to a great degree, but the implication is that civilization has collapsed. The logistics of the collapse are secondary in this story. It is more about the people.Makepeace was the local sheriff and still patrols the city on horseback, saving books, cleaning guns and marking time."There were times when I wondered if I had done the right thing staying behind when everyone else had left or died."When a plane flies over and crashes nearby, Makepeace is stunned. Could there be others alive? Could technology have been saved? The Sheriff decides to strike out and look beyond the confines of the dead city of Evangeline for the rest of humanity.What Makepeace finds may be worse than than being alone - fortified villages, suspicion, slavery and a world trying to understand the old technology. And The Zone.Makepeace is a compelling character and narrator, offering up a unique and thoughtful perspective on whatever presents itself. Rolling with the punches, considering, contemplating, enduring. It is the unveiling of Makepeaces's stoic character and past that had me quickly turning pages. Theroux quietly inserts many surprises that catch you unawares and completely change the direction your thinking was headed. I love being unable to predict a novel.Although this is set in the future, I don't know how far ahead we could say. The scenario presented is all too possible. A five star read for me.Read an excerpt of Far North.Fans of Matheson's I am Legend, McCarthy's The Road and even King's The Stand will enjoy this book.
Reason for Reading: As soon as I saw the words dystopian and post apocalyptic associated with the plot I was there. Those are favourite genres of mine. Comments: Makepeace lives a solitary life in the Russian/Asian North, the only survivor in a once thriving town of American settlers. This is a world sparsely populated, where occasional persons pass by on the road but only rarely these days. Groups have settled in different areas and Makepeace begins to see what the world is really like after a plane flies by overhead and a decision is made to find the fabled land where civilization is still running, where they still have planes. Makepeace sees native tribes who are friendly and living off the land proudly, native tribes who are brutal and take what they want leaving pillage and bodies behind, a society based on strict religious rule and more but ultimately Makepeace is captured by a slave camp where work is gruelling but at least food is readily and freely given.I really enjoyed this book. Makepeace is a very interesting character and while secondary characters come and go Makepeace is the one that is fully fleshed out and whose past is slowly revealed throughout the book. The atmosphere is dismal and bleak, as is the writing. I found it a slow read just as the trudging through snow and back breaking work would slow one down, it also slowed down my reading. Blurbs on this book use either the word dystopia or post apocalypse but I'm going to take a stand and say I would not apply the term dystopia to this book. The world is too large, there are too many societies, the scope is more global and there is no true oppressing force. Sure there is oppression but it is from various sources of different makings. The book is certainly post apocalyptic and as the reason is revealed, truly believable. When reading modern apocalypse books I'm always leery of how heavily they will rely on "global warming" (sorry "climate change") and I think the author's theory of our ultimate doom should be believable to those on either side of that particular fence.Religion is a strong theme in the story as well. Although the author is certainly against it. There are a lot of Biblical references in the narrative and yet the main character is agnostic (at the least) and all the Christian characters are villains or fools. The Muslim characters are shown as grouping in cliques and their religion makes them stand out, for various reasons, in the different societies encountered in the book. Being Christian myself, it is always disappointing when characters don't find redemption, but neither is the book offensive, in fact, it is quite thought-provoking. How would a truly Christian character or society have affected the outcome of Makepeace's story?A fascinating tale of self-preservation at all costs, perseverance that never ends, greed, love, friendship, betrayal. Most of all though it is a desolate, frightening tale of our possible future which still manages to leave a feeling of hope for the future of mankind.
I almost gave up on this book very early on. It was not catching my interest, and I had other things here I could read that I thought would be more engaging. But, I decided to stick with it and it grew on me. The author creates a post-apocalyptic world. People had moved to areas in Siberia to escape from society, and its frivolities. Then, they are overcome with refugees from the world who are fleeing from war and environmental degradation. Eventually, they destroy themselves. But, this is all in the past. We see a solitary woman who is living alone in a former city established by the settlers in the Far North. She appears to be the sole survivor, at first. She finds some comfort for awhile with an escapee from slavery. Just as she is about to kill herself, she sees an airplane and has hope for something better. She sets out in search of it. Definitely a bad move. She ends up suffering incredibly, both from the elements and from other people she finds on her journey. One odd thing about this book, is that is contains many more typos than any other book that I have read recently, and by a long shot ¿ missing words and extra words, that kind of thing.
This was a very enjoyable jaunt through a future landscape that I never thought I would wander. Very enjoyable reading overall. I loved the character, was intrigued by the pace and unfolding of the story, captivated by the turns. It was on pace for a solid 4 star rating. I didn't care for the latter third of the story; it didn't keep the same interest level for me (promising start, fade toward the end)... but still - overall I recommend it for a good "end of days" with a hopeful twist story.
A bleak novel set in a dystopian future in the 'Far North' where society has broken down and become a no-man's land of have nots, this book is narrated by the protagonist as they try and survive in the isolated, harsh world that exists in these pages. I'm loathed to say too much because there are moments in this whose impact relies on the fact that the reader is not over-informed about the plot. It's a really well written book and owes much to the same literary canon that gave rise to Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. If you read and enjoyed (although that may not be the best word ... maybe 'appreciated' 'The Road', then this should certainly engage you). Whilst it is a bleak world that this novel is set in, I felt less 'bruised' on reaching the end than I did with 'The Road' but similar questions were raised in my mind. I would certainly recommend this, it's a fast and engaging read and Theroux has brought the characters alive through his words. It raises question about society, about religion, about the breakdown of our world and it's eventual conclusion but all this is contained in what I found to be a real page-turner.
Interesting post-apocalyptic epic set in the "far north" as the title suggests. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", in that there's plenty of traveling in search of what has happened. The plot moves along but without much of a reward. The character development never gets deep enough to engender much sympathy for the characters. The writing style would be more sutiable for a travelogue.
I have to admit this is not the genre I would normally choose and I was unsure if I would enjoy it. However, I found it a very interesting read. The several surprises throughout the book held my attention and found me re reading some sentences because I couldn't quite believe it the first time round. The first one was most certainly the best!The plot, characters and landscapes are very bleak, but this is crucial to the storytelling. I would most certainly read future books by this author and I was impressed by Marcel Theroux's descriptive prose.
Post apocalyptic novel told from a womans point of view. I enjoyed this book and found it thought provoking- different from Cormac's The Road, less heartwrenching. The main character- Makepeace- takes a while to get to know but it is worth it.
The world has become a very dreary, dangerous place by the time we meet Makepeace Hatfield on horseback patrolling a deserted town in the far north that is home. The town is deserted because of apocalyptic events to the south that have brought civilization to an end. Makepeace was once the constable of the town, but now is the only permanent resident. While on patrol, Makepeace encounters another human being with a shaved head, apparently stealing books from the town library, probably to burn for warmth. When the thief drops the books and reaches for what might be a gun, Makepeace shoots him, only to discover that the ¿gun¿ was a dull knife ¿that you¿d struggle to cut cheese with.¿ Makepeace nurses the thief, named Ping, back to health, and then the surprises start coming. We learn that both Makepeace and Ping are not who they seem. Further, we learn just how tough Makepeace is during a trade deal with some Tungus - caribou herders ¿ who live five days ride to the north. After Makepeace¿s guns and ammunition get stolen, Makepeace tracks down the thieving herder and sets his tent on fire when he sleeps. He survives the fire, but finds himself in -40 degree weather with no coat. It takes him 2 hours to freeze to death, but Makepeace gets the guns back. Makepeace and Ping develop a strong friendship even though they do not speak each other¿s language, but after awhile, Makepeace is alone again. The rest of the book covers Makepeace¿s efforts to make contact with other humans. The search is not very productive in that Makepeace is soon captured by slavers and wastes years in debilitating servitude. The outlook for slaves is bleak, and the reader cannot be sure of Makepeace¿s continuing survival. Jim¿s Evaluation: Theroux's writing is terse and clear. However, the plot is very reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy¿s The Road, and that¿s a very tough act to follow. This book is not as concise and not nearly as scary as The Road. In addition, Theroux¿s work contains two story line cheats in the form of scientifically unexplained impossible technology, one of which is only tangentially necessary for the plot. The book contains some implied observations about religion: the Evangelical ¿preachers¿ are phony and the Muslims are sincere, but benighted. All in all, this is a pretty grim book with a pretty grim view of human nature. Perhaps most of us are as beastly as Theroux portrays us when we are in circumstances as adverse as he describes. In The Road, the terror comes from the anticipation of the bad things that threaten to happen; in Far North, those bad things actually happen (enslavement, beatings, friends die, etc.), but that just isn't as scary. Nonetheless, the final message is uplifting¿Makepeace is a mensch, in spite of everything. Jill¿s Evaluation: I would rename the main character (and also the narrator) Meh-kepeace. The character was sort of blah and not really well developed. Subjects that might have revealed more about Makepeace were dispensed with by sentences like: "I can't dwell on what happened next, because it pains me too much to write it¿¿ You¿ve got to be kidding! Moreover, that was about as close as the character ever came to expressing any emotions. "Far North" was far too one-dimensional for me, and the quality of the writing wasn't sufficient to compensate. Further, as Jim noted, there were some never-explained references - such as the mysterious blue flasks - that really played no big role in the story other than to serve as red herrings. For that matter, we don¿t even know what caused this apocalypse, or even its extent. In the end, we get one final surprise that seems yet again to me to demonstrate cheating on the part of the author: cheap tricks to titillate the reader. I can¿t see Makepeace not elaborating on this [surprise] earlier. Unlike Jim, I did not find the book uplifting; on the contrary, the message I got was that even generosity
Where I got the book: my own selection, from the library.Makepeace is a survivor in an age where drought and famine have wiped out most of the population. A remnant of a religious community that settled the farthest northern reaches of Asia, Makepeace struggles with the choice between isolated self-sufficiency and reaching out to other humans in an age where brutality is the norm.Far North is a compelling book. I've always loved end-of-days novels, and if you've ever read John Wyndham's 1950s classic The Chrysalids (and if you haven't, you're missing out on a great book) you would probably, as I did, place Makepeace's society a couple of hundred years before the farming communities of that story, and find an echo of the older book in Theroux's novel.What kept me turning the pages of Far North was the writing. Theroux's descriptions are wonderfully evocative, his writing crisp and unadorned. This keeps the story moving along at a fast pace, and I stayed up late because I just had to finish the last hundred pages.Far North is a little short on plot, in my opinion, and the narrative takes sudden, unexpected turns that are both frustrating and intriguing. So if you're the sort of reader that likes all loose ends woven in and tied with a neat bow, you won't find that here. If you're of the camp that believes a novel should reflect life's untidiness, you'll love the meandering action. I hope that, like me, you'll grow fond of the unlovely Makepeace and find yourself projecting the character into the future.I'm giving Far North four stars for the writing and the author's imagination. It stopped short of rocking my world, but I'll be looking out for more books by this author.
"There's so many things worse than a solitary life." An apocalypse survivor, believing they are alone in the world, is given new hope when a plane falls from the sky. Makepeace eventually wishes to have never discovered where that plane came from. Makepeace's parents decided to leave city life in Chicago and "start over" in the wilderness, go back to the land, by leasing it from Russia. This apocalypse happens from climate change and overpopulation. Humans essentially become storms of locusts, roving around looking for anything to eat. The cities obviously were the first to collapse and the city dwellers tried to find food where they could, including Makepeace's town. 'Far North' speaks of the impending deterioration of the planet. I can only think of the Gulf oil spill disaster: more oil needed = more drilling = more accidents = more negative affects. Just like the world's reliance on the weather to stay the perfect climate so the farms can feed everyone. This book may sound too depressing to read, but Makepeace is a character you want to follow from page one and makes the subject matter worth it. You are captivated with Makepeace even more when the story of how the world ended starts to unravel.One disappointment: when Makepeace begins the journey to find the origins of the plane, it seems like a couple weeks journey but really surprised me after mentioning months have passed. What did Makepeace see in those months? The biggest disappointment in 'Far North' is the amount of simple typos, misplaced words, probably the most I've seen in a book that is an actual edition and not an advance reader's copy. The editing does a disservice to the writing of Marcel Theroux. If these typos weren't in the first edition, this is a definite example of how a book can change over time, just by having it republished. I have read many post-apocalypse books. This one has a classic and beautifully simple writing style, yet at the same time, not being too overly brutal. (Then again, I just finished reading Margaret Atwood's 'Oryx & Crake' which had a new depressing idea on every page, so maybe 'Far North' just seemed tamer than that one.) The image of Makepeace traveling while spring is arriving with the slushy snow clumps falling out of the trees is amazing. Add 'Far North' to the list of amazing post-apocalypse novels. I'm looking forward to what Marcel Theroux thinks up next.This book reminded me of many others. If you liked any of these, try 'Far North' (and if you like 'Far North', try these):Ishmael trilogy - Daniel Quinn (have a gorilla explain to you what could happen to the world)Drop City - T.C. Boyle (Makepeace and Drop City's Cecil Harder and Pamela are similar characters - also live in the wilderness)City of Thieves - David Benioff (journey to find a dozen eggs in WWII Russia)Post-apocalypse novels:Oryx & Crake - Margaret AtwoodThe Stand - Stephen KingDark Tower series - Stephen King (Makepeace reminds me of Roland)The Road - Cormac McCarthyAlas, Babylon - Pat FrankSwan Song - Robert R. McCammonAmnesia Moon - Jonathan Lethem
A quick read with a northern twist on the post-apocalyptic novel. The setting and main characters are interesting, there were many beautifully crafted passages in the narrative. While there were several surpises in the plot, there were too many unlikely coincidences or predictable twists for me to rate it higher. Perhaps if I had read Far North before The Passage and A Canticle for Leibowitz, I might have been less critical.
I enjoyed this book very much and really didnt want to put the book down. I had one major problem with the book and that is the author didnt elaborate on why the population has demisished other than some flooding and warming. Really could have spent some more time with that area.
Kept me reading on two levels: the adventure of a post-apocalyptic tale;the deceptively simple, deeply skilful prose of the protagonist. Here is my memorable quote:"The beginning of the world and my birth seemed like the same event. For me, the world began with water dripping off wet sheets in the sunlight. I was the creator, blinking my eyes to make night and day. And I was Noah, arranging my chipped hardwood animals in the dust of the arctic summer. I taught my family language, and I was the first human to set foot in the wilderness at the bottom of our vegetable patch."
I thought this was a good book. To be honest I thought it was going to progress into more, but overall it was interesting storyline.