THE LAST MAN
Updated: Apr 18, 2019
OR Can you make it to the last page?
Almost a year ago I started a course on Dystopian fiction through Oxford University's Continuing Education college. I've done a few of these courses, they're pretty good fun - you front up on a tuesday evening at the Reading University campus I happened to do my PGCE at and argue about books for a couple of adults whilst supervised by an Oxford lecturer. This one wasn't quite as much fun as some of the previous ones as the lady who taught them had retired and been replaced by a younger Canadian lady, who despite being lovely, didn't have the encyclopaedic literary knowledge of Penny or pronounce words in a hilariously posh accent - never have I heard decade pronounced 'de kade' - and possibly I wont again.
Now I've read Frankenstein, and it's on the current A level course I teach, though I teach the poetry and drama, I don't love it and I think it has a couple of major plot holes, but it is undeniably an intersting piece of work. So when we were learning about some of the fore runners of the Dystopian Genre, my ears pricked at this novel and duly an amazon parcel arrived like a leaden lump on my door mat.
That was probably March last year. It sat untoutched until I braved the first chapter just after Christmas. It took a month to get though - this does not happen normally - I read quickly, or the book gets abandoned. For some reason, perhaps inspired by the ridiculous fortitude of those in the novel, I determined to make it to the end.
Lionel lives in the year 2090 or thereabouts, in a blissful wonderland that is England. England has horses and carts and beautiful fields and people who read an awful lot of philosophy and literature and there are absolutely no cars or planes and women have babies not jobs.
The only slightly odd thing is that there is no longer a King, but Adrian, who should've been King had his dad not been quite so feckless, does end up ruling everything anyway. Names in this book are amazing. Aside from Lionel and Adrian, there are their respective sisters Perdita and Idris, Evadne who is a bit of a femme fetale and Rayond who is pretty awesome as both statesman and general. He's supposedly modelled on Byron, (Adrian is Percy Bysshe Shelley) so a lot of his escapades are in Greece and Turkey where he runs around being awesome and loved by all, especially the lovely Perdita but suprisingly no boys from Catholic monasteries. In fact, whilst Art and Beauty are big things, Religion is barely given a mention until Idris dies and gets put in a tomb under a church.
Spoiler alert - everyone aside from Adrian dies. Either from the plague or from other sundry illnesses and drownings. But the deaths don't really begin in earnest until about 2/3rds of the way through. I'd give a page number, except this book has no numbers - what the hell is up with that?!
It is a beautiful, lyrcial fantasy with meditations on art and nature and humanity aplenty. It is also very, very long and makes Frankestein look like a tightly plotted page turner. But whilst I'm not sure I can honestly recommend it to anyone, I'm glad I did make it to the end - and glad it made me look up some of the details of Mary's life again, for it is easy to forget how mad an existence she lived in Victorian England, how unconventional her existence was and that she left behind rather more than a monster that most people have conflated with the scientist who made him.