Review: Richard Jefferies – After London: or, Wild England

After London: or, Wild England
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Too much play is made of this as an ‘early post-apocalyptic work’. It seems to me the SF aficionados come at it and find it wanting, while the likely best readership for the work is put off reading it at all.

This is a very singular book which, insofar as it owes allegiance to anything, owes it to Victorian tales of adventure and romance. The characterisation is minimal, but adequate. It’s a page-turner, at least in parts. There’s a siege, there are battles, a journey, a voyage, an unattainable beloved.

Yes, the setting is post-apocalyptic, but why? Jefferies gives us no notion as to what it was that led London in particular, England generally to be abandoned. He’s not particularly interested in how much of central England came to be submerged beneath a lake. What he really wanted, a the avid naturalist, was to put Man and his society back into a state closer to nature than that of the London he so abhorred and to weave from that a story which is almost as much about the birds, the plants, the animals as it is about the people. Certainly he never lets us forget the scenery is there. Oh, and he wanted a lake for our hero to sail across as he headed out to seek his fortune, so… drown central England, why not?

Lovers of post-apocalyptic fiction may get off on the final quarter of the book when our hero visits the remains of London, now buried under effluent and a poisonous miasma which kills all who linger, but that seems to be Jefferies’ opinion of London anyway, far more at home in the countryside, walking the woods, seeing the trees and the animals, imagining himself in adventures the likes of which ‘After London’ exemplifies.

So, if you want post-apocalyptic fiction, forget it. This is one for those who like Victorian drama, who like musings upon nature and the environment, and for them this is a gem they will, most likely, given all the post-apocalyptic build-up, never read.

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