*I received a free ARC of this novel with thanks to the author and Karen Shih at California Coldblood Books. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: The world experiences an abrupt and unthinkable cataclysm on the morning of October 29, 2018. Kevin March, high school band trombonist and wannabe writer playing hooky, is witness to its beginning. To stay alive, Kevin embarks on a journey that promises to change everything yet again. On his journey, into a digital recorder he chronicles his experiences at the end of his world. This book is a transcript of that recording.
Depicting an unspeakable apocalypse unlike any seen in fiction—there are no zombies, viruses or virals, no doomsday asteroid, no aliens, no environmental cataclysm, no nuclear holocaust—with a Holden Caulfieldesque protagonist at his world’s end, The Late Bloomer is both a companion piece to Lord of the Flies and a Bradburyian Halloween tale.
The Late Bloomer is harrowing, grim and poignant in the way of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Told in Kevin March’s singular and unforgettable voice, delivering a gripping narrative with an unsparing climax as moving as it is terrifying, The Late Bloomer defies expectations of the genre and will haunt those who read it.
I have never read anything quite like The Late Bloomer and yet it felt so familiar!
As I was reading I found myself constantly jotting down references and comparators, so I will get that out of the way first, and say that if you enjoyed any of the following, you will be likely to love this book:
- Lord of the Flies (lots of overt and covert references throughout)
- Signs (the portents, dreams and cryptic dialogue-snippet clues)
- The Happening (apocalyptic crisis relating to ecology rather than sentience)
- Children of the Corn (the behaviours of the children obviously, but also the idea of devolving back to rituals and pack behaviour)
- The Midwich Cuckoos (also the behaviours of the children and the idea of sudden evolutionary jumps)
- The Fog (mysteriously invoked insanity)
- The Mist (monsters and the unknown)
- The Birds (nature turning and pack behaviours)
- The Stand (survivalist style)
- Shaun of the Dead (our hero starts out as a fairly average, pot-smoking teen boy)
- and pretty much anything by John Wyndham or Ray Bradbury.
(Not a definitive list by any means, but just a sample of the thoughts and feelings that the story evoked as I read.)
This is not to say that this book is simply a repeat of the above sources, but more that it pays respectful homage to the tone and ideas of these authors and filmmakers whilst bringing something new and fresh to the genre of apocalyptic sci-fi.
The book is told in first-person narrative, stream-of-consciousness form by Kevin March, formatted as a transcription of his verbal memoir recorded on a dictaphone. The setting is contemporary (too contemporary if you pay close attention to the date!) and the pacing is quite mixed as we switch from Kevin’s account of the events of previous days and weeks, told with great urgency and the more reflective interjections as he muses on what it all means from his ‘current’ point.
The characterisation is skilful, as Kevin is introduced to us slowly through his own words and actions, then introduces his friends and family as he goes along, keeping up with the action and chasing the mysteries.
In terms of plot, the whole story is actually one big mystery! There are frequent overt and implied references to Golding’s Lord of the Flies throughout the novel and the comparisons are therefore fairly obvious, but one big difference is that Golding sets up two possible scenarios, one paranormal and one the result of nature triumphing over societal influences, then offers his preferred answer in the rationality of the sudden ending. In contrast, Falkin offers us every possible explanation under the sun for the events he is describing, as Kevin considers, rejects and reconsiders rationales ranging through the Biblical, evolutionary, genetic, scientific, alien, monstrous, psychological, psychic, ecological and societal. Rather than picking an answer, Falkin leaves Kevin and the reader to choose their own explanations from the multitude and I really liked the uncertainty, as it drew me to think deeper about both the novel and my own beliefs.
Having Kevin dictate the story directly to the reader was a bold move and really paid off in terms of intimacy and immediacy, but it carried with it a couple of problems. One is that we knew Kevin (and occasionally other characters) would survive to at least a certain point, as he was narrating the majority of the story from that point in the future. This took some of the tension out of some otherwise terrifying moments.
Towards the end of the novel we catch up with Kevin’s ‘current’ events and from that point his narrative becomes contemporaneous. This has a huge effect on the impact of the ending on the reader, causing us to feel the shocks and distress in ‘real time’ with the characters. However it inevitably causes the narrative to become more stilted and lose its prior flow, as Kevin is forced to begin telling us the action directly: ‘she’s nodding her head folks!’ in an unnatural way. The author mitigates this as much as possible using the sense of humour and meta-awareness that Kevin has shown from the beginning to justify his dialogue, but compared to the rest of the novel it just didn’t quite work for me.
Overall I would definitely (and already have!) recommend this book to anyone interested in apocalyptic fiction who doesn’t expect their solutions neatly trimmed and tied with a bow. The Late Bloomer is a thoughtful, gritty and fresh take on some familiar themes.
It did. It came from the sea. I know, sounds like a fifties horror film. But what proceeded was exactly that, and worse because it didn’t end, hasn’t ended, the terror. The not knowing, which is so much worse than knowing.
Things being over, as awful as the over is, is the better place to be. I know that’s true if I know nothing else. Because right now I really don’t know what’s going to happen to me, but I know it’s a when-not-if. And that’s the terror.
– Mark Falkin, The Late Bloomer
The Late Bloomer releases on Amazon today. I recommend you go and buy it now…before the world ends! 😉