Post-apocalyptic fiction isn’t the first place you’d look for a life-affirming tale, so when this latest addition to the subgenre trails itself as “a novel about the end of the world that makes you glad to be alive”, it’s easy to raise a cynical eyebrow. In truth, The Dog Stars actually has plenty of hard-edged bleakness to spare, although it also tempers its portrait of loneliness in a desolate world with a gradual layer of tentative hope and optimism.
It’s the tale of Hig, a pilot hiding out at an abandoned airport in the American wilderness nine years after a series of global pandemics devastated the world. His only companions are his faithful dog Spike and a confrontational gun-nut neighbour. When a series of dramatic incidents occur, Hig makes a fateful decision to track down the source of a mysterious radio transmission.
Fans of more action-heavy apocalypse fiction won’t find much to whet their appetites here; literate and gently-paced, The Dog Stars is closest in tone and execution to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road - although thankfully not quite as soul-crushingly bleak. While there are moments of tension and suspense throughout, the novel is mainly an exploration of Hig’s character and the wildness of the post-civilisation world. Heller’s choppy, sparse style (he even leaves out speech marks in the dialogue) won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this is still a poetic, moving and ultimately rewarding read.
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