This month’s post-apocalyptic book club selection.
Regardless of ‘the end of the world’ in the title, this is not actually a post-apocalyptic novel. It is, however, a remarkably excellent novel.
The narrative is divided into two sections – in one, a young man works as a Calcutec, able to do feats of cryptography in his head. At a surreal job interview/assignment, he meets a pretty plump woman in pink and her mad-scientist grandfather. Gradually, we realize that his is not a wholly natural ability, and that the reason he can do his work may turn out to have not-so-benign repercussions.
Meanwhile, in another (even-more-surreal) world, another young man has just been admitted to a walled town called The End of The World. In order to enter, he must agree to be separated from his shadow, which is doomed to die a slow death without him. In this passive, circumscribed place, everyone seems to be afflicted by amnesia; they have no “mind” (a term used in a way which might seem to more closely approximate what people often refer to as “soul.) He is assigned to a job: ‘reading’/releasing the dreams of dead unicorns from their skulls.
It is quickly clear to the reader that there is some strange and intimate connection between the protagonists of these two stories. Each embarks on a kind of quest: the first a physical trek through sewers, pursued by Morlock-like “INKlings,” the second an intellectual journey through research, mapping, and an attempt to remember. At stake for both? The world itself? – or the individual’s conscious existence in the world?
The nature of their connection is only gradually revealed, in a masterfully crafted and intricately formatted tale full of symbolism, which explores the ideas of conscious and subconscious, and the nature of identity.