Far North, By Marcel Theroux

Reviewed,Brandon Robshaw
Sunday 15 March 2009 01:00

Marcel Theroux conveys in this novel a sense of how precarious and precious our technologically maintained liberal democracies are. Makepeace is the last inhabitant of a failed settlement in northern Siberia, established before war brought the civilised world crashing down. In conversation with a fellow inmate at a slave camp, she remarks that it only takes three days for hunger and desperation to overcome all civilised instinct in a person. Her friend smiles and replies that she has a bleak view of human nature – in his experience, it's closer to four days.

The life of any character in such a world is likely to be short, and no sooner have you got to know a character than you start fearing for their safety. Theroux is a master storyteller, and the narrative is as full of surprises as it is of murders. And in Makepeace he's created the moral centre of a heartless world: hardened by her experiences she nevertheless remains capable of great courage, friendship and loyalty, so that the bleak vision of this novel contains a glint of consolation.

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