This is THE weirdest, most deliciously disgusting and at the same time awesomest book I’ve read in a very long time. It’s beyond comparison; there isn’t really any book I’ve read (or that even exists, maybe?) that is anything like this one. Andrew Smith either has a mind-boggling imagination or he’s high as a kite. Whatever it is, I want some.
The writing is wonderful – we follow Austin Szerba as he tells the history of the beginning of the end of the world in Ealing, Iowa.
The reader is warned about the contents of the book on the first page:
“There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.”
It should also mention that there’s a fair bit of swearing. (“- and shit” is the ending of quite a lot of sentences.) It’s aimed at young adults, but most of them know all these words anyway. And I think if you pick up a book about a sixteen year-old boy battling six foot tall praying mantises, you’d almost judge him if he didn’t swear on the odd occasion.
It’s definitely written from a sixteen year old boy’s perspective – there are lots of um‘s and uh‘s and quite a lot of the book is dedicated to Austin’s horniness or his balls, but I found it kind of endearing. It can’t be easy for a guy to have to constantly hide an erection (as Austin had to do on more than one occasion).
An equal share of the book focuses on Austin’s confusion over his sexuality. He has a girlfriend whom he loves very much, but he realises he is also in love with his best friend, Robby Brees. His confusion spans the entire book, something that never really gets resolved as it would in most other books (just another loose end to tie up) and I liked this too. Some loose ends never really get tied up in real life, and sometimes it’s one’s sexuality.
History, Austin’s family history in particular, is woven neatly into the plot. He demonstrates throughout the book how history is tied to everything, and everyone’s own personal histories mingle and intertwine. It’s an interesting thought, and one that I agreed more with throughout the novel. One aspect I really enjoyed was that everything was linked. Links between everything, on every single page. Nothing just is, everything has a reason, an explanation, and that I liked very much.
The point is also made that a lot of history is conjecture. Not everyone can know all the facts about everything. We must rely on others’ experiences and accounts of what happened, join it all together and fill in the blanks. This point was contradicted by the fact that Austin Szerba is the narrator and yet he has an omniscient knowledge of everything that is going on whilst he is otherwise occupied. We see not only what he sees directly in front of him but everything that he doesn’t see as well. This makes for a very complex and compelling account of the end of the world.
I love that the story is so multi-faceted. It is as much about the Austin-Robby-Shann love triangle as it is about teenage angst, as it is about massive unstoppable praying mantises whose only needs in life are to “fuck and eat”, as it is about history. It is not solely about any one of these things, but marries them all together in a fascinating way.
It is a truly unique, original, inspiring novel that is also repulsive and vulgar at the same time. But the vulgarity just made it even more awesome.