PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

It seems a quite likely that Adrian J Walker’s bookshelves boast more than their fair share of titles by the likes of John Wyndham, John Christopher, HG Wells and pretty much any number of other authors much given to chronicling possible nightmare Armageddon scenarios. Although The End of the World Running Club is modern, grim, gritty and sometimes uncomfortable, it’s not difficult to trace its lineage back to the so-called ‘cosy catastrophe’ authors who brought the civilised world to its knees back in the 1950s and 1960s in books like A Wrinkle in the Skin and The Day of the Triffids.

This time, it’s asteroids. The Earth is bombarded by thousands of tiny – and not so tiny - bits of space flotsam and jetsam and Edgar Hill, an out-of-shape thirty-something, disappointing husband and could-do-better father, is as unprepared as the rest of humanity for the chaos and carnage of life on a planet, changed unrecognisably by its collision with tons of fast-moving cosmic debris. But at least he’s quick enough to understand the importance of the warning sirens and the panic of his neighbours as he bundles his family into the cellar of their Edinburgh home, waiting to out sit the apocalypse. They’re rescued before their resources can run dry and they find themselves in a paramilitary encampment in the shattered remains of the city; but Edgar is off on a foraging expedition when a fleet of helicopters arrive and whisk off the survivors – including his family – down to the South Coast for evacuation to a more habitable Europe. Torn from the family he’s discovered he does, after all, adore and cherish, Edgar and an ill-matched bunch of fellow refugees have no choice but to traverse the dangerous, ravaged landscape and with the road network devastated they have to do it on foot. By running...

The first hundred or so pages of The End of the World Running Club – the apocalypse itself and how Edgar and his family survive it – are thrillingly page-turning. But as any long-distance runner will tell you, it’s hard to keep up that pace. Walker’s breathless narrative slows down, finds its rhythm and settles into an enjoyably restless canter as Edgar slowly but surely steps up to the plate and becomes the man he would never have become if his world hadn’t come crashing down around him.

Walker’s brisk, absorbing text takes the raw clichés of the apocalyptic subgenre and injects them with a modern grit and vigour. Life in the new ruined world is tough, ugly and cheap. Edgar and his companions – uneasy bedfellows at first but eventually forged by the fires of experience into a ferociously determined and close-knit unit – encounter numerous dangers on their harrowing journey across the shattered country, from trigger-happy rural survivalists to a community in the ruins of Manchester living in the shadow of a terrifying despot who rules with an iron fist (any resemblance to STARBURST HQ is entirely coincidental). The End of the World Running Club will thrill and delight fans who might have thought that no-one was writing books like this anymore – it’s all zombie pandemics around these parts nowadays – and whilst the ‘running club’ conceit never really takes root and the narrative loses its focus a little in its rush towards its commendably-downbeat conclusion, it remains a terrifically well-observed, haunting and occasionally harrowing read. Now jog on...


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