An emergency news broadcast takes over every channel on the TV and radio networks. Meteors are set to strike the earth within 24 hours. The consequences are unknown. You’re on your own. So, what do you do? How do you plan?
Hopefully, you’d be a little more prepared than protagonist, Edgar Hill, who hears the broadcasts after the second bottle of Shiraz. It’s not until the next day that the dredges of his memory return to him upon realising that his neighbourhood is eerily quiet, and his local shop has failed to open its doors on time.
He’s lost his warning to prepare; he’s missed out on the head-start many others have had. His wife and two young children are unaware, having gone to bed and not heard the warnings.
Panicking, Ed and others force their way into the shop against the will of the owners. Within a few moments of realising his life is now about to change dramatically, in ways he cannot fathom, with his life at risk, he’s already acted in a way he didn’t think possible.
The situation takes a darker turn when Ed’s neighbours begin fighting for supplies and whatever protection they think will help them; including a space in his basement.
In the darkest hour, our humanity and morals become a complete shadow of what they have been; we revert to our most basic of instincts; survive, at any cost; just survive.
In the same situation, what would you do? Do you cram whatever items you think of, running on autopilot, into the confined space with your family, shutting out the people you’ve lived alongside for years? Can you watch their faces, twisted in terror when they realise that you and a door stand between them and a better chance of survival? How do you process that afterwards? Who do you become? What do you become?
Ed puts his family’s survival at the forefront. As the strikes destroy the world around him, he hears people crying out to him for help. As they lay dying, their bodies ripped to shreds, they beg for mercy; calling out to whoever might hear them. He and his family have no idea what’s waiting for them outside. The temperature rises and they run low on supplies. He attempts to open the basement door; an option that he becomes unsure of both mentally and physically. Debris is blocking the way out, and what little Ed can make out of his uninvited guests leaves him shaken.
Eventually, his family are rescued, just as his situation borders on desperate. The military take them to a local base, where they meet other survivors and are brought up to scratch on the damage. They are shut off from the rest of the world; there is radio silence. No-one knows the true extent of what lies ahead, no-one knows what remains of the country.
Ed distances himself from his family, choosing to head out on supply runs rather than be a constant presence. A group of volunteers and soldiers scavenge what they can from nearby settlements; avoiding the ‘rabbits’- survivors that have turned wild, choosing to defend what they consider theirs with violence whenever necessary.
The rabbits are organised; they have weapons and will kill to ensure their own survival. On one final supply run, and a close call with the rabbits, Ed discovers that they’ve learned of the military base and will attack. Upon the scavenger party’s return, the base has been emptied. Ed’s family is gone. The few that are left tell the returning crew that helicopters had come to take survivors to the other end of the country where boats await, ready to ship them off to a safer location. It’s promised that more helicopters will return to collect them; they will be reunited with the other survivors.
After a few days, however, it becomes clear that no-one is coming back from them. Those left behind must now face a choice- do they try to travel from Scotland to Cornwall in time to get a place aboard the rescue boats? Can they survive life as they’ve come to know it? Will they be able to defend themselves from the rabbits?
The group pack up and head off, beginning their long and eye-opening journey to the south. It soon becomes clear that they won’t make it in time. There are few vehicles that aren’t burnt out, and fuel is scarce. They must run.
Their journey shows them what’s left of the UK. Cities are destroyed, and towns have become craters. Humans are taken over by the urge to survive at whatever cost; deceiving and killing to get what they need.
The guilt Ed carries around for the story is a burden; not only is it he that has made the decision to guarantee the survival of his family at the cost of his neighbours, he knows he’s put pressure on his wife by not being the supportive husband and father he should have been. If he had not been drinking, they would have had the night to prepare for the strikes; they could have stocked up on more supplies and been better organised. If he had bonded better with his children, they would better trust him; better be comforted by him and his presence. If he’d been more supportive of his wife, perhaps they wouldn’t have grown so distant.
The book proclaims, “To survive you need to run”. I disagree; this isn’t key to the book. There are people surviving in the ruins of the towns. They are getting by, doing what they feel is necessary. They might not be happy, but they don’t need to run.
It becomes clear that Ed has not been a great father figure and has neglected his duties. It takes the end of the world for him to realise the consequences and step up to the plate. He has been given a second chance. Running the length of the country gives him the time and space he needs to reflect. All it took was a meteor strike. He’s one of those characters that you just want to reach through the pages and shake. He didn’t need to run to survive. He needed to run to be with his family. But his journey is what makes him realise that he doesn’t want to survive without them. By the end of the book, he’s a completely different man, 100% motivated by the possible reunion with his family.
Hindsight is often a wonderful thing. Think about it; put yourself in that position. What regrets would you have? Perhaps we should all be a little more grateful that we haven’t faced the end of the world yet.