The Man Who Kept On Living by G.P. Grewal is a compilation of three post-apocalyptic novels published separately as 600 Miles, North and Barstow.
I've read all three books and thought each one was excellent but if they're new to you, save some money and buy the set.
Elgin is the narrator in 600 Miles and he is on a journey from Arizona to California hoping to take in the city of Los Angeles in the process and his main problem is that he is walking there because the story is set several decades into the future in a world of complete chaos. The cause of the apocalypse is hinted at and appears to have been all out war between the state and the people but this all happened years ago; Elgin only knows a hand to mouth existence in a world which has sunk to basest depravity and his frequent dispassionate observations of “skellies” tells you how bad things are.
The story is Elgin’s life over the several months of his journey; the places he passes through; the people he meets. It is a love story in the most unlikely of circumstances and an exploration of Elgin’s personality as he tries to cope with the tribulations and challenges of survival. The story is full of unexpected developments and at times is tense, exciting and shocking. There are several really interesting characters in addition to Elgin particularly Gitty and Roy who make up Elgin’s eternal triangle and are his companions for much of his journey. The ending of the book is deliberately vague and lends itself to the sequel, North.
At the start of North, Elgin is alone and desperately trying to survive in a bleak and devastated landscape. When he meets Annie their loneliness becomes assuaged in a beautiful but tragic love story set amidst the struggle for survival.
Elgin's character is developed much more in this book and his often simplistic views of the world reveal some profound understandings of human nature. He has become blasé about being the one to shoot first and ask questions later if he thinks his survival is threatened. He wants a relationship and attempts to normalise things with Annie despite their daily struggle to find food, water and shelter.
The book hints at some of the causes of the much earlier devastation and Elgin's interpretation of the past might chime a little with the reader's thoughts about the present. The post-apocalyptic world explored in North is a dreadful place: in the struggle for survival most of the remaining humans have developed a deep suspicion and hatred for each other and the rare kindness of strangers is barely to be trusted.
North is a very readable novel and the voice of Elgin, the narrator, comes through strongly in an old-West, hill-billy style. This voice is consistently sustained throughout the novel and adds greatly to the originality and quality of the book. As he shares his thoughts and feelings Elgin, the man destined to walk alone, becomes more and more likeable but increasingly tragic. When Elgin talks about his feelings for Annie, the writing is honest and quirkily humorous as he reveals his old-fashioned views about gender roles. Elgin's relationship with God is a particularly interesting aspect of the novel; as is his perception of history and the educated man.
The descriptive writing is vivid and real. The smells - stinks - are overwhelming; the taste and texture of some of the animals cooked and eaten are nauseating; the oppressive darkness of an unilluminated night is scaring. North is a book of tension, drama, emotion and tragedy.
The final book in the trilogy is Barstow: A Post-Apocalyptic Western. It's a story about survival; it's a story about love and friendship; and it's a story about law and order. And a whole lot more as well.
The writing is crystal clear, direct and economical: wry observations give you just enough detail and leave your imagination to do the rest. The main characters are well drawn and although their flaws are exposed you feel strongly sympathetic to them and their predicaments. There's a strong Western voice which feels really authentic and some interesting rhythms in the sentence structure.
There are fleeting glimpses of cinema Westerns and hints of traditional cowboy films. And The Justifiers, while placed in their immediate environment, exhibit the characteristics of fascist groups over the ages. The post-apocalyptic is the context and the setting is of devastation, squalor and destruction not to mention privations culminating in cannibalism all described in vivid, graphic terms.
I read these books between September 2013 and January 2014 and they remain three of the best books I've read in several years. Highly recommended.