Karen Buck on her fondness for 'end of days' tales

Written by Karen Buck on 29 July 2012 in Culture
Karen Buck MP on The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing

This article is from the July issue of Total Politics

Sometimes I worry about my fondness for ‘end of days’ stories, from JG Ballard’s The Drowned World to Margaret Atwood’s complementary Oryx and Crake/The Year of the Flood.

Is this indicative of a profound pessimism about mankind, especially when interwoven with harrowing non-fiction accounts of war (such as Ed Vulliamy’s account of the Bosnian conflict, or anything by Antony Beevor)?

No, I’ve decided that the reverse is true; I absorb apocalyptic visions as counterbalance to a fundamentally optimistic personal/political faith in humanity’s capacity to find a better way to live.

If forced to a single choice, I’d pick Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor because the writing dazzles, moving between descriptions of an increasingly brutal disintegration of society and a mystical alternative to reality.

The themes – breakdown of civilisation in the aftermath of an unnamed disaster, the nature of memory and consciousness – are profound, but the story has a compulsively readable narrative.

Quite rightly, the novel suggests that the nature of things is ultimately unknowable, but that our capacity for love, including the narrator’s love for her ward, Gerald’s love for feral street children and the bond between the humans and the strange beast, Hugo, is all that make sense, all that matters.

Tags: Issue 49, Karen Buck, Life, My old book

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