Book Club Review – The Death of Grass by John Christopher
According to the introduction in our edition of ‘The Death of Grass’ Samuel Youd (aka John Christopher) was born during an unseasonable snow storm in April. 3 members of the Greener Kirkcaldy book group met during an unseasonable snow storm at the end of March to discuss this tale of ‘floral-apocalypse’ that describes a world that is turned upside-down by the Chung-Li virus that is deadly to all species in the grass family. This includes all the major food crops – rice, wheat, oats, rye, corn, etc. The story unfolds through 2 London families. At first we’re taught a lesson about complacency as Chung-Li takes hold in the Far-East and the protagonists discuss it with no feeling of threat to them or their way of life. Then we’re taught a lesson about civilised society and how quickly it could break down when food shortages reach the UK.
The plot is compelling and we all found the book a quick read – partly due to length, partly due to it being a page-turner. This fast-paced story is very much plot-driven, and the author does not dwell too much on character development. Male and female characters fit into rather old fashioned roles – with the men as a vehicle for the cold-hearted rationale that quickly transforms the group into a barbarous mob, and the women voicing idealistic calls for compassion and solidarity. The group made comparisons between this book and another apocalyptic novel ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy – McCarthy dwells on human relationships and offers vivid descriptions of a decimated landscape. John Christopher’s novel leaves it up to the reader to imagine the grass-less England that the story traverses, leaving our book group to wonder what it would look like. Would it be a dust-bowl? Would weeds quickly colonise where there was once grass? Would the first sign of rain cause massive mudslides? All very cheery!
Likened to ‘Lord of the Flies’ one of the main messages of this book is that civilised society that we pride ourselves on is but a veneer, only permitted by the fact that are basic needs are well secured. We discussed what exactly causes this loss of security and descent into savagery in the book. Is it that nature has turned against us unable to provide us with the most basic of necessities – food? Or is it the rumour that the government is planning to nuke major cities to reduce the population? In this case we might say it is a break in the social contract that sends our party on its journey and turns England back into a land of roving tribes.
If you’re looking for a book with strong characters, interesting relationships and vivid descriptions look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a good read for a long train journey this book provides entertainment and plenty of food for thought – on morality and ethics, on the nature of society and on human nature.|