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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week