Friday, September 14, 2007

Restoring the Natural Order: John Christopher, Empty World. Hamish Hamilton: London, 1977.

Neil Miller's entire family is wiped out by a car crash and he is still numbed when the Plague hits, killing the elderly first but rapidly moving on to the young. The disease ages you in four days. You die of old age.

The first part of the book which deals with Neil's numbness in disaster is fantastic. The section where he moves through an empty world was also pretty good.

But I had completely missed the really nasty homophobia.

When Neil finally finds people, he finds two girls living together. Billie is boyish. Lucy is sweetly feminine. Billie is hostile. Lucy welcomes him. Getting the picture? There is increasing rivalry betwen Neil and Billie. Billie tries to kill him. He gets Lucy on his side and locks Billie out of the house, at the mercy of the winter and wild dogs. At the very end, at the very point where Lucy comes completely on to his side and awards him the victory by suggesting that they not let Billie back in, he "relents" and goes to let her back in.

I must have been young when I read this, because I don't remember it at all, and I'm fairly sure that by 15 or 16 I'd have picked up the sub-text. Billie shared Lucy's bedroom until Neil comes along. She "plays boy" while Lucy keeps house, even finds Lucy a sewing machine. But when a "real" man comes along, the Adam and Eve mythos can play out for real, and there is no place for Billie.


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