Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A boy and his basset, a girl and her cat: Carolyn MacDonald, The Lake at the End of the World. Hodder and Stoughton, Australia, 1988.

Diana lives by a lake with her mother, and her father who has been damaged by a tractor accident. As far as they know, there is no one else left in the world. They look after the birds that her father transplanted many years ago, grow crops and have no meat. Their only animals are the barn cats. Diana has made friends with one called Matilda.

Hector lives in an underground community of one hundred and two. The community is self-sufficient, has much food stored and lives in quiet darkness to save energy. Everyone whispers. They also have basset hounds. Hector's basset hound is called Stewart and Stewart is a wanderer. One day he leads Hector above ground, and Hector, entranced, keeps returning until one day he meets Diana. He follows Diana into the world where she hides him in her shed.

As Hector grows stronger, Diana's mother finds him, but the two women initially don't tell each other, and Beth makes friends with Hector on her own terms. When Diana discovers she is initially angry with Hector but that gradually subsides. By the time he meets her father as well, he is on his way to being integrated.

But Hector, who was being raised to be a leader in his own community, decides to go back at the very least to say good bye but also with the sense that he needs to find out if he is needed. Diana and Stewart accompany him and find at the heart of the underground system a dictator who has kidnapped many scientists to create his underground empire: yes, he had preached the end of the world, but as we discover his plan to dump the accumulating toxins of the power plant into the lake, we realise he isn't exactly a Green, just a believer in the ecological equivalent of a modern Gated Community.

Diana is expelled and Hector locked out of the community and left to starve. Hector decides he has to leave, and just decides to go--realising that much of the Counsellor's power is simply about fear. As he as one of the older members leave, the lake breaks through into the tunnels forcing many of the community above ground. The Counsellor is killed.

At the end there is the hope that the underground dwellers will contribute ther resources to help create a viable lake community [although it's too small really for genetic diversity].

I really did like this quiet story. Ok, so I'm predisposed to like anything that;s essentially a tale of a girl and her cat, and a boy and his basset, but even the mild mysticism of the lake didn't annoy me and the issues of environmental collapse were handled very well.


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