Monday, 16 September 2013

The Sky So Heavy

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN  978 0 7022 4976 1
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Life as we know it has ended. Nuclear war has broken out. Although Australia was not attacked, the survivors face a brutal nuclear winter.

Zorn has convincingly portrayed a dark, claustrophobic world. Fin, a typical 17 year-old, stumbles though a new landscape with no power or communications, looted stores, limited fuel and a crumbling infrastructure. It soon becomes apparent that the survivors have been left to their own devices as the institutions which are meant to help are overwhelmed.  

At first, Fin and his younger brother Max are content to wait for the return of their father and ration their supplies in their quiet street in a Blue Mountains town. But as the days grind on and their needs grow increasingly desperate, the pair are forced to act and fight for anything that helps them survive. The world is now a dog-eat-dog place. Yet within the ruthlessness where otherwise mild-mannered residents turn against each other, Zorn introduces some surprising acts of generosity. Small gestures, handled lightly and without sentimentality, shine a light in an otherwise bleak environment.

Fin is not perfect; he colluded in the bullying of Noll, the outsider, back when life had been ‘normal’. Now, his victim shows himself to be the better person, and shares his meagre supplies with the brothers. Together with Noll and Fin’s crush Lucy, the four teenagers make their way to Sydney in search for Max and Fin’s mother. But the journey was not entirely motivated by filial loyalty; their mother was a big-wig in the government and they hope she might provide the means to their survival – if they are allowed close enough to the seat of power.

I liked that Zorn’s post-apocalyptic world was zombie-free. The acts perpetrated by those motivated by greed and fear outstrip any horrors of the undead. Written as a metaphor for the plight of asylum seekers, this is a page-turner. The police and army have betrayed the general population, and now exist to protect an elite core – the only ones with access to the limited supply of necessities. Our four teenagers, accustomed to a well-fed, safe lifestyle, have become the ones on the wrong side of the line that separates the haves from the have-nots.

As the narrative progresses, the characters grow in their resilience, resourcefulness and sense of responsibility, so the counter-intuitive choices made at the end of the novel were completely consistent with the inner journey.

Comparisons to Marsden are inevitable, and I would love to read the sequel.

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