I’ve never been on to believe in ‘just in time’ books – books that have a right time to be read. I do this at my own determent, as I kept and didn’t read a copy of Naom Chomsky’s Hegemony of Survival for about a decade before diving in (‘I’m not smart enough to read it!’), only to find once I did get around to reading it that it was so much old hat. I had, after all, been following the news that past decade.
So lesson learned.
I had no idea what The Death of Grass was about when I started reading it, but I had seen it on numerous ‘must read sci-fi’ lists about the internet. The blurb mentioned a virus wiping out the grass around the world.
Grass? How’s that a problem?
Turns out it is a massive problem. Grass is pretty damn important. Wheat is grass. Most of our livestock eats grass.
But that really isn’t what this novel is about. Have you ever heard that old yarn about civilization really being only three missed meals away from anarchy? Yea, that’s what this book is about. And it is really not pretty. Largely, the tale follows some urbanites on their retreat from London to a hidden away valley where they hope to hide out from the coming anarchy. As they travel, they find themselves, and the world around them, increasingly succumbing to the worst characteristics of mankind.
It is not pretty. This book is a bit hard to read in that respect. I generally read in the mornings and do productive adult things throughout the rest of the day, but this had me taking readings breaks for sheer want to get back to it.
In the novel’s beginning the virus seems to only affect rice, and is thought to be contained in an Asia that has already fallen to anarchy and cannibalism. From the protagonists there is a whole lot of prideful British “of course the Asians but we would never!” that I first thought just might be racism, and ultimately turned out to be pretty delicious irony. That led me to forgive a lot of the later book, when some pretty horrific things happen. Or perhaps I forgave the author from accusations of being an awful misogynist. It’s not him, it’s the horrific story.
How apropos to be reading this in 2021. There are no similarities to this virus and our own, but the interesting thing for me wouldn’t have been there anyway. What was interesting was that, unlike the line about missed meals above, society in the book collapses at the mention of coming missed meals. That, I think is where this hit home. It felt a lot of the people where waiting to act barbarously, and the coming famine was just a really good scapegoat (this was my take away from the character of Pirrie) and when I consider the no-vax idiots in my own country, I kind of feel the same way.