Jonathan Cape, £12.99, 304pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Then, By Julie Myerson

First came The Road and The Rapture; now Then. It's easy to see why the apocalypse appeals to novelists, with its opportunities for metaphor and for putting protagonists in demanding situations. In Julie Myerson's novel, a scorchingly hot February day is followed by sudden darkness, conflagrations and an Impact Winter. Survivors eke out a brutal existence of scavenging and fighting in the city's ruins. Groping her way from one harrowing day to the next, the first-person narrator can't remember anything, not even her name.

This may sound as if Myerson has struck out for new territory, but in reality only the backdrop has changed. There's no explanation as to what triggered the disaster, for this novel isn't about the end of the world, but the end as experienced by one woman. And she's a recognisable Myerson heroine: middle-class, irresistibly lovely to men, a mother. Here too are the familiar Myerson preoccupations – lost children, sexual betrayal and psychological meltdown.

Writing in the present tense, Myerson plunges us straight into this icy hell where even breathing feels "like a rough and complicated act". The narrator finds herself sheltering in an office block, along with former lawyer Graham, teenagers Ted and Sophy, and strange 13-year-old Matt. They are an apparently random group. At first she hates Matt and the "dimples in his fat cheeks". But then she comes to love him. Why is he familiar?

Izzy (her name is revealed towards the end of the novel) wanders the floors of the skyscraper. She experiences flashbacks. She has visions of a man in a deserted office who makes phone calls and weeps. Sometimes she glimpses a ghostly child. Sometimes children arrive en masse, pet dog in tow, telling her she's their mother and she needs to look after them. There's a troubling memory of a toddler dead under the ice, "The eyes... bright blue and astonished, the lips parted as if on the edge of crying out."

One of Myerson's strengths lies in creating atmosphere. She rips up the narrative to create a fragmented story. With Izzy's traumatic disorientation, time ceases to be linear. Things occur that she can't fathom, and then resonate as they occur again. Words are said by a character only to be repeated in another context in another time in an "endless, heartbreaking loop of consequences". As the amnesiac fog starts to shift, Izzy recalls that she once owned a house with roses around the door, grew vegetables, had a family, had an affair. She has "done bad things". But like someone in a Greek myth, she's condemned to a cycle of repetition.

Myerson sees the pathos in small details, "The sad little marks and stains where a shoe has scuffed or an insect has died." Then, however, remains stuck on a single emotional note. It isn't helped by the author's unrelenting fondness for short sentences that veer towards breathiness: "I let my heart bounce. I hold my breath. Whole moments go by. The room slides around. It isn't upright. Sweat bursts out on my face. I think I might faint." The unflagging narrative builds to a dark climax without the faintest glimmer of hope.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor