Thursday, 12 November 2009

‘Total Oblivion, More or Less’ – Alan DeNiro (Spectra)

Hands up everyone who has ever sat at their desk (on a particularly dull school or work day) and thought, “what if...?” If you read a lot of speculative fiction then this is a common side affect and one that is somewhat of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I feel adequately prepared for a zombie infestation or for a sea monster to rise from the Thames and start laying waste to the city. On the other hand though, I never seem to get anything else done...
If we’re really lucky, our ‘what ifs’ can transcend mere idle speculation and make the leap onto the printed page. Alan DeNiro has done just that with his debut novel and the result makes for some interesting reading. Not all of it though...

What if our world was suddenly invaded by warriors from Ancient Europe? Here’s a question that sixteen year old Macy must answer when the invasion comes to Minnesota. One day everything is normal; the following day (and those to come) is full of warring tribesmen, wasp borne plagues and talking dogs. As the world is unravelling so is Macy’s family and she must struggle to keep both intact as best she can. The alternatives aren’t good...

In the spirit of all the best ‘What Ifs’, DeNiro’s ‘Total Oblivion’ never even attempts to get to the bottom of just why North America has been invaded by warriors from the past. That’s not the point at all. What’s important is that it’s happened and that people must somehow find a way to deal with the consequences, Macy’s family in this case. This is where the story truly lies and the fact that it’s being driven by something totally unexplained (but at the same time very apparent and dangerous) gives it the concept a little extra kick which should speed the plot along nicely.

I say ‘should’ because although the plot does flow well it did feel more than a little bogged down by the fact that much of the plot is advanced through talk rather than physical action. In one sense this is very much a good thing as we get to see Macy’s character develop over time along with others. It also gives us an insider’s view on how the world is changing and continues to change. On the other hand though, when the balance of the plot shifts towards talk (over action) then you can be left feeling that not a lot is actually happening. This is certainly how I felt at times when reading ‘Total Oblivion’, not a good thing when the book itself is only three hundred and six pages long.

It’s not all bad though. As I’ve said already, the mystery surrounding the invasion not only provides an intriguing entry into the story but also serves to paint a vivid backdrop for the story to be set against. While the story may slow down in places, it is rescued by a plot that demands things be done otherwise certain characters won’t make it all the way through... These two things are what kept me reading in the main, an interesting central character was the clincher.

If the world goes belly up then the first thing you’re going to want to do is try and get some level of control over what is left. This is the approach that DeNiro takes with Macy and it works well as far as I’m concerned, almost rendering the state of the world in microcosm through the workings of Macy’s very dysfunctional family. Macy must learn a lot about herself in order to more effectively fulfil her aims and this is where the character development comes in. By doing this, Macy is also able to learn a lot more about her brother Ciaran and so we see his character in a new light as well. He’s still the same guy by the end of the book but at least we have a better idea of why he behaves the way that he does. Things aren’t quite the same by the end but was anyone expecting them to be? When your world falls apart things are never going to fit back together in exactly the same way. What matters is that things are good enough to get by. DeNiro recognises this and ends the book appropriately.

‘Total Oblivion, More or Less’ is a book where the concept hooked me from the start. Unfortunately the book’s structure made it more difficult to get into than it needed to be, it didn’t do itself any favours there. However, a little perseverance uncovered a tale that was worth taking the time to find. Worth a quick look if you come across this one in the bookstore.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

1 comment:

RKCharron said...

Hi Graeme :)
Thank you for the indepth review.
All the best,