It’s not the fictional aspects of Lost Girl which will keep you wide awake at night, enduring endless dark hours between sweat-soaked fever dreams. It’s the entirely possible predictions of what might happen in the next 40 years that should snap you out of complacent daydreams. Forest fires blazing out of control across whole continents. SARS killing by the million. Entire countries flooded. The end of the world as we know it? Oh yes.
The author deserves massive credit for his masterful manipulation of solid scientific information, from which he weaves together an entirely plausible set of doomsday scenarios. Almost any of them alone could be catastrophic: the combination of climate change, pandemic, and uncontrolled mass migration which are portrayed in Lost Girl inevitably tips human society over the edge, until civilisation itself stares into the abyss.
A less accomplished author might’ve struggled to deliver the relentless torrent of information and keep things interesting. Adam Nevill neither glosses over the detail (it’s where we find the devil, after all) nor does he deluge the reader in tedious technobabble. The hardcore science stuff provides a superb, solid foundation for Nevill to build an atmospheric edifice of accumulating evil. It’s never completely unequivocal – but the rising sense of sinister menace more than hints at something Very Bad, waiting to exploit the collapse of mankind’s moral fibre.
Then there’s the plot. Aggrieved father turns vigilante as society crumbles, attempting to find his little girl who was kidnapped two years ago. Ventures into the lion’s den of paedophiles, pushers and priests of the apocalypse. Actually, this was my least favourite part of the book. Didn’t empathise with the protagonist; resented his dazzling self-obsessed guilt-trip and staggering practical incompetence. But without him there would’ve been no story, so I tolerated the infuriating jerk on the grounds that while my travelling company might’ve been driving me to distraction, the scenery was more than worth the aggravation.
Did I mention the writing? I should. It’s so idiosyncratic, almost gothic in its traditional construction and metered obscurity. The narrative feels like it’s been sculpted; the words hewn from a solid mass of inky blackness to create towering descriptive passages of massive intensity. A bit like… no, it’s no actually a bit like anyone. Well. Maybe Anne Rice in her prime. Maybe shades of Stephen King’s The Stand. However, the conceit of not naming the protagonist (he’s simply called ‘The Father’ throughout) really didn’t work for me. Way too much Cormac McCarthy.
The publishers and most other readers classify this book as ‘horror’, and indeed it reveals a deeply distressing, entirely horrific possible future. But it’s not especially supernatural, nor so graphically explicit that I would’ve automatically stacked it alongside slashers, blood noir and spooky schtick. Not that the label matters much – unless you’re a person to whom the only thing that matters is the label, of course. Interestingly, ‘The Road’ falls into the ‘Literary / Contemporary Fiction’ category, and it’s probably closest to Lost Girl in their shared themes and sensibilities.
Lost Girl holds up an unflinching mirror to our reality, and it’s not a pretty sight. It does, however, also hold out a thin hope for humanity – and after reading this, you’ll probably feel that we need one.