Author: Lauren Beukes
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Shelves: Female-fronted, female-authored, transgender
While I liked and even admired parts of Afterland, as a whole it was largely unsatisfying. That may say more about me than the book, so take my reservations with a grain of salt, but let me explain.
First off, this was a book that largely ignored the half of the story I’d hoped would be its focus. This is largely Cole’s story, the story of a mother on the run with her child, desperate to get home and just as desperate to avoid dealing with her violence against her sister. All of that is fine, and Lauren Beukes does a solid job of exploring a mother’s love, but it was Miles’ story that I was interested in. He’s one of the last males in the world, forced to disguise himself as a girl during their flight, with his struggle compounded by the advent of puberty. There was so much potential there, so many issues of gender and sexuality that could have been explored, but aside from a few passages on shaving and erections, he’s really just a package to be delivered.
Second, there’s a fascinating new world here, one where the men are gone, leaving women to rebuild society without them, but we don’t get to see a lot of what that entails. I wanted to know more about the new family dynamics, the new relationships, and the new society of women helping, loving, supporting women. We get glimpses of that new world, but most of them are either dark and sordid, as seen through the eyes of Billie, an opportunistic, greedy, unbalanced woman with a concussion. I suspect (hope?) that was deliberate on Beukes’s part, stuck between either suggesting women are hopeless without men or undermining Cole’s story by exploring how strong and resilient women can be, but I feel like an entire novel existed beneath this.
Finally, this was a book that felt light to me in many ways, superficial and safe where it could have been, could have said, so much more. In skimming over the gender issues and the women’s issues, restricting the narrative to the journey of a mother – one that wouldn’t be much different if it had zombies or vampires or abusive husbands behind it – it misses so many opportunities. At the same time, that lightness leaves us with a soft ending that comes far too quickly, far too easily, without the kind of significance it could have had. It almost feels unfinished, like the first chapter of a longer story.
With all that said, there were aspects of this that I enjoyed. The concept of a viral cancer is an interesting one, and there’s a great deal of fascinating detail on how it progresses, how it kills, and how the world disposes of more bodies than it can handle. The post-apocalyptic roadtrip aspect is exceptionally well done, with Cole and Miles struggling with gas shortages, smartly exploring abandoned communities, and dealing with a religious cult that I found more comical than chilling – although there is an attempt towards the end to find some meaning in their mission.
As a story of a mother’s journey, Afterland was an okay read, and as a post-apocalyptic roadtrip it had its moments, but as a book about sex and gender and the consequences of the manpocalypse, I found it lacking, just not the book I’d hoped it would be.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.