The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker
There is something about post-apocalyptic stories that are haunting and draw me in, like no other. But there are only a handful stories that don't disappoint. I am legend by Richard Matheson or The Road by Cormac McCarthy are few that comes to mind.
But throw in a dog - and a survival story of grit and courage in a world that's gone to rot and rubble, now that's one hell of a juicy bone to resist for someone like me. Who loves me a good survival story and loves dogs more than anything else. And so the premise of The Last Dog on Earth was irresistible. I confess I haven't read The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker before I dove into this one and so my expectations were pretty slim.
As the name suggests(The Last Dog on Earth) , it is actually the end of the world and Linekar (Named after Gary Lineker, the English Football star of the 90's) is a mongrel who loves, no adores his master Reginald Hardy to bits. Living in isolation in South London closeted in their apartment, scrounging off scraps, living off canned food - content with their evening walks into the deserted compound around their bombed out apartment building and not really venturing out beyond a set perimeter. Which the bookish Reg, who was an electrician (in another life!) has mapped out to the T and is unwilling to explore. It's almost an idyllic existence, given the circumstances. Reginald's version of paradise is to look out over this mapped area using the pilfered binoculars, walk the neighbourhood for electrical equipment to keep the generator running and get back to his writing - Linekar's life is full of just sleep, dreams and love. Time spent shooting the breeze, chasing after fat lazy squirrels, dreaming about sunlight and Reg's love. Reg on the other hand, is content with this living, trying his hands at writing a book about a Duchess looking for her lost family heirloom.
Their existence is a myth that cannot survive for long - Reginald knows this and one fine day, a straggler kid - orphaned and now being taken care of by the army camp gets separated from an armed convoy - attacked by the the goons in purple right in front of his eyes. Circumstances collude and Reginald finally has to take a bold decision to ‘save’ this girl, to whom even Linekar has taken an unlikely liking to. And there starts their preregnition to beyond the known borders of their existence to cross the river, brave the nature and go up against the might of the fascist tyrants who now rule the country.
Adrian writes with a lot of aplomb - indeed, with a dual narrative, one focused on Linekar and the other on the human, Reginald, the pacing is pretty headlong and flows along quite nicely. There is always the suspense element, in terms of the purple goons who have supposedly ‘ended’ the world and so that lurking shadow is always at the back of the mind.
Actually it is the narrative arc of Linekar that really sparked up interest in me. His rumination on life, love, relationships, the evolution, his fellow dogs, nature - it is quite fascinating and deep. And Linekar’s been given a wonderful characterisation that is colourful, bold and an absolute blast to read. Reg, on the other hand - is a weak-willed wuss, as the British are wont to call. Whose intentions are driven purely by a selfish need to survive, cocooning himself inside a wall shutting off the world outside. Even as the world goes to hell in a handcart and half of London is bombed out, Reginald is content to live inside his flat. One, he is afraid of people’s touch. Two, there are no friendly neighbours anymore. There are personal reasons for this behaviour of course but because we are limited to being just inside Reginald or Linekar’s head, our perspectives on the genocide and the causes of the apocalypse are still scattered speculations at best. Aisha is the girl with the golden touch whose arrival throws Reginald’s carefully constructed lie of a life out of gear - I fervently wish that she had a PoV.
The second part of the narrative is fairly bleak and a bit grim - dealing with the haggard survival hardships of Reginald and his new found friends in a PoW camp. And while yes, there is redemption that happens finally - for both Reginald’s character and the world in general, I thought the resolutions came too slow, too late. This is the biggest grouch I had about this novel. It’s a mighty fine story but in searching for that thin sliver of a silver line around the black mushroom cloud of this post-apocalyptic story, I think I just got too tired of waiting for the good things to happen, for Reg to grow a pair and just get things done. I wasn’t really dissapointed. There is the of course the new dawn and all the jazz by the end of the book but somewhere along the way, the fizz died and my excitement to see where this whole man-dog friendship against the cruel bad world set up was going, didn’t last. But yes, I would definitely read more of Adrian J Walker’s books - starting with his acclaimed debut, the end of the world running club.