Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017: Maximum Shelf: The End of the World Running Club

Sourcebooks Landmark: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

Soourcebooks Landmark: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

Sourcebooks Landmark: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

Sourcebooks Landmark: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

The End of the World Running Club

by Adrian Walker

In The End of the World Running Club, Adrian Walker (From the Storm) uses the end of the world as we know it to skillfully probe big, significant questions of what it means to be human, what it means to survive and what happens when merely surviving is not enough.

Edgar Hill is not the most together guy in the world. Father of two young children, he drinks too much, doesn't exercise, phones it in at his job, leaves the bulk of childcare to his wife and stumbles through each day. "What if this all just went away?" he muses. "What if it all just blew away?" And then, one day, it does. With only a few hours' notice, the United Kingdom is struck by multiple asteroids, obliterating the country and leaving Ed and his family buried in their home's small cellar, waiting for help.

Walker's ability to imagine a post-apocalyptic world in crisp detail is on full display in the early pages of The End of the World Running Club. Telling details of life pre-apocalypse are scattered throughout Ed's recollections of his family's time trapped in their cellar and vivid descriptions of the upturned world into which the Hills emerge upon their rescue: most of the country has been destroyed, cities demolished and roads blocked. The Hill family is taken to an army barracks near Edinburgh, where they wait, with their rescuers, for news from the rest of the world.

The inclusion of these pre-apocalyptic details, in particular, allows Walker not only to highlight how much of the world is changed by the asteroid strike--but how much stays the same. Ed and his wife still fight. Friends still comfort each other. People still fall in love. And a few see opportunity in the power vacuum left by the collapse of civilization. Some people give up. Some people endure.

When Ed's wife and children are evacuated to the southern coast of England to await the arrival of rescue boats and he is accidentally left behind, Ed chooses to be someone who endures. With the roads impassable, Ed and the small group of survivors left with him set out on foot to cross the United Kingdom. Their journey quickly evolves into an ultimate running adventure, as the group must traverse dozens of miles a day to have any hope of arriving at the coast before the last boats depart. This race against the clock sets the pace of the rest of The End of the World Running Club, adding an element of suspense to an already compelling story.

As Ed and his ragtag group struggle to trek some 500 miles, the focus of The End of the World Running Club shifts from detailing the end of the world to exploring various characters' reactions to it. Most centrally, that is Ed, who narrates the novel and whose transformation over the span of a few hundred pages is most remarkable; he grows from a layabout who did little more than what his body demanded ("eat, sleep, stay still") to a man who will run 30 miles a day to reach his family. But alongside him, readers get to know a cast of colorful and multi-faceted characters: Harvey, the aging Australian who once ran across a different country; Bryce, a bear of a man who has an unexpected soft side; Grimes, a female soldier who sees herself as the group's protector; and Richard, a once well-off father who still clings to shadows of classism.

"It's hard being a human," Ed says. "Most of the time we're just blind idiots seeking joy in a world full of fear and pain. We have no idea what we're doing, and on the rare occasions when we get things right, we're just lucky. Our lives are filled with the humdrum: dust and noise with no meaning. And yet they contain moments that seem to mean something, something we can't describe but want to."

The End of the World Running Club is full of small moments of philosophical musings like this one, in which Ed reflects on the end of the world as it relates to the human condition, and to his own. Perfectly balanced by the suspenseful race to the coast and the number of less-than-pleasant characters the running club encounters along their route, these moments of philosophy make Ed's story all the more emotional.

Though readers may never face the extreme situations Ed and his companions endure, much of their experience will feel relatable and even, at times, familiar. In that, The End of the World Running Club proves a great success as a novel of the apocalypse: one that focuses not on the nightmares that the end of the world might bring, but on what it takes to find meaning amid such horrors. --Kerry McHugh

Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99, trade paper, 464p., 9781492656029, September 5, 2017

Sourcebooks Landmark: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

Adrian Walker: Running for Your Life

Adrian Walker was born in Australia and raised in the U.K., where he graduated from the University of Leeds and began a career in software. He has written several novels, including From the Storm and The End of the World Running Club. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

The End of the World Running Club tells the story of a man separated from his family after a deadly meteor attack, and his attempt to reunite with them by running across the United Kingdom. Beyond summarizing, though, what would you say the book is about?

At its heart, it's about Edgar Hill, a man at odds with himself and everything around him. It takes a global cataclysm to show Ed how to believe in himself and find purpose. It's also about parenthood, and how running can change you psychologically.

The novel encompasses the hours just before the world shifts completely, the attack itself, and then the long, chaotic days and weeks that follow as the survivors fight for their lives.  What drew you to writing about the end of the world?

Ever since I read [Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven's] Lucifer's Hammer as a teenager, I've been obsessed with the apocalypse! I'm fascinated by the idea that our entire civilization teeters on extinction, and that the events that might tip us over are all perfectly natural and happen all the time. I started with this fascination in mind, but I found as I wrote that the stages of the scenario (which you describe) actually made a fairly good analogy to childbirth and early parenthood. The fear beforehand, the violence of the event, the stress and isolation afterwards. The apocalypse gives you a great array of tools with which to put your characters under pressure, but this extra level really helped me to add meaning to Ed's test. I should stress that I hadn't planned the analogy, but perhaps it was subconscious.

Despite being a less-than-perfect father, Ed shows a ferocity and dedication to his family after he is separated from them. Do you think he could have come into his own as a parent--and even as an individual--without this calamity? Or does it take extraordinary circumstances to create extraordinary people?

To raise children effectively, I think you have to believe in the world you're raising them in, and your place in it. Ed's problem is that he doesn't believe in either, so while I'm sure he would have functioned as a father, he would not have been happy and his family would have noticed that. By the end, hopefully, he has found enough purpose and self-respect to remedy the situation.

You're an avid runner. Have you written about running before? Do you find the act of writing about running brings out new insights or changes the sport at all for you?

Not so much in the writing, but I read a lot about endurance running beforehand (e.g., Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall, Eat & Run by Scott Jurek) and that really changed my perspective, especially on how long-distance running affects your mental state.

Have you ever run distances like the Running Club's trek across the country? What's the strangest thing you've craved, hurt or hallucinated on a long run?

The longest I've ever run is a marathon, but I talked to loads of ultra marathon runners before I wrote the book. My worst injury was when I lived in Edinburgh and we had a terrible winter. The whole city was covered in ice and I got frustrated at not being able to run. One day I did it anyway, hit a patch of black ice as I was crossing the road and knocked my foot out of its socket on the curb, snapping my fibula in the process. I heard the break over the music in my headphones. I remember actually trying to reinsert my foot, thinking that I could just run home on it again. I was in plaster for the next six weeks, and couldn't run for another four months.

On some of his longest running days, Ed starts to hallucinate. Are these hallucinations meant to cast any kind of doubt on his experience as a whole? Do you see him as a reliable narrator?

The ending contains an element of doubt, leaving the reader with certain questions, which I'll let them answer. I've had some interesting responses from U.K. readers, one of which had a particularly chilling take on the whole book which I'd never thought of before! Personally, I veer towards a more hopeful interpretation.

What are you working on now?

My next book is out in the U.K. in September, called The Last Dog on Earth. It's narrated by a foul-mouthed London rescue dog and his owner during a period of social collapse--a lot of fun to write. I'm about to start work on another book, too, which will be out next year, and a reincarnation novel called The Other Lives which I'm self-publishing later this year. Lots in the pipeline! --Kerry McHugh

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