The End Of The World As He Knows It: A Review Of Ewan Morrison's How To Survive Everything...
If any Scottish writer was going to tackle the task of writing a pandemic novel head-on Ewan Morrison was always going to be among the favourites. Never one to shy away from a controversial or current topic, he has previously written about swinging (Swung), the complexities of capitalism (Tales From the Mall), sexual obsession (Distance) and communes, cults and the damage done (Close Your Eyes & Nina X).
His latest, How To Survive Everything (When There’s No One Left to Trust), is instantly recognisable as a Ewan Morrison novel, with a dark heart at its centre. Teenager Haley Cooper Crowe is locked down in a remote and hidden location after her father takes her, and her brother Ben, one morning in what most people would call an abduction. This is not a spur-of-the-moment idea as ‘Dad’ has clearly been planning everything for some time, believing that there is only one way to survive another pandemic, and that’s his way.
He has gathered a small group of committed acolytes to help the family survive, but there is still one person missing to complete this distinctly non-nuclear family. Dad’s detailed survival manual becomes the group’s sacred text, containing practical ways to cope if the worst does happen, as well as setting out just what that ‘worst’ could be.
Haley has to work out the facts from fiction to discover what is actually happening in the rest of the world as opposed to her parent’s potential propaganda. With everyone’s situation changing on an almost daily basis, and relationships shifting constantly, she isn’t sure if she should stay and fight or take flight. As events unfold she finds herself pulled in different directions, getting to know her new family and deciding if the worst proves to be true if she can build a new life with them.
Perhaps her father's choice of companions is not as madcap as it first appears as there is someone who can hunt and protect, someone who can fix, a person whose instinct is to nurture, and even a potential partner. Is this selection further evidence of her Dad's careful planning, or his madness? The answer seems to change almost on an hourly basis.
How To Survive Everything is absolutely gripping from the start, but, initially, it’s not exactly an easy read. That’s partly because it all feels very close to home and, while it would be interesting to re-read in the future, clearly the novel’s immediacy is a major reason for its impact and existence. Morrison refuses to sugar the pill when setting out the potential extremes of a pandemic, his research into the subject clear and thorough and therefore hard-hitting.
But, as you read on, you realise that this is a novel which has family at its centre, and you can’t help but care about Haley’s as they discover what’s really important to them, and that some ties bind tighter than they may realise. Take away the extreme situation, and what may or may not be the end of the world, and you are left with a family dynamic which will be recognisable to most, if not all. As a result you reflect on what, and who, is important in your own life. It’s a novel to lend perspective, and that’s something that is increasingly welcome.
How To Survive Everything (When There’s No One Left to Trust) is out now published on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books.
A version of this review first appeared in SNACK Magazine.