1 June 2010

John Christopher, The Death of Grass, 1956

The lesser-known of the two great ‘floral apocalypses’ of the period, the other being John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids to which this bears little resemblance. The Death of Grass is actually a far better read, and there’s certainly a greater similarity to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in the way it shows civilisation as little more than a fragile set of agreements, easily ignored when the chips are down as the world’s diseased food chain collapses and Britain descends into anarchy. This is deliberately a very adult book that gives little consideration to half-formed attitudes – the perspectives of the coterie of children who also head north with John Custance are more or less ignored as a deadly adult type of playground power-play is put centre stage instead. There are a couple of well-drawn characters in the cynical Roger Buckley and particularly the enigmatic Henry Pirrie, whose individual influence throughout the novel is consistent and believable. The Death of Grass had been out of print so long that a 2007 Bookfinder survey named it as one of the top ten out-of-print British books; another out-of-print book it recalls – in believable environmental themes at least – is John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, although John Christopher/Sam Youd’s conception of a highly contagious and adaptable form of stem rust seems to be coming ever-closer to reality. A timely and overdue reprint, and a scary read indeed.  PY


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