By Annye Camara
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(Aug. 3, 2023) Have you ever purchased a book, only to let it sit on a stack of other books and forget about it? And when you finally pick up the book, you are captivated? I do this all the time.
I didn’t read Richard Powers’ “The Overstory,” Yann Martel’s “Life Of Pi” and even my favorite book of all, Anthony Marra’s “The Constellation of Vital Phenomena” for months.
Most recently, I started to read “A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World,” by C.A. Fletcher, which was published in 2019 and the year I purchased it. The novel is thrilling. As we begin, the world as we know it has been gone for a long time, many decades. A small family, a father, a mother and two adolescents – a son Griz and a daughter Bar – live on a small island with their two dogs, Jip and Jess, who are considered family. No other people or creatures are on the island.
Our protagonist, Griz, reads books that he finds on trips with his father, when he sails his small ship to other islands to forage for food and tools, pieces of wood and metal that can be useful at home. Griz searches for books about astronomy and metaphysics, as well as books of adventure and magic. Griz knows in his heart that books are important, and he cherishes the battered books he finds on their outings.
The small family lives carefully and simply. Each of them have assigned duties according to their strengths. They stay close to each other, including their dogs. They love each other. It’s all that they have, their love for each other.
Other islands, however, are peopled by “Vikings:” marauders, dangerous thieves who steal animals, provisions, boats and people.
One of these Vikings named Brand appears one evening, asking for help with his sailboat. He is hungry and only asks to have a meal with Griz’s family and a place to sleep for one night. He entertains the family with stories about his faraway island. Griz’s heart beats faster, as he doubts these stories, though the rest of the family are hospitable and engaged.
In the morning, Brand and his sailboat are gone. He has stolen important equipment, tools and stored foods. Most devastating, he has taken the dog Jess. Griz does not hesitate. He thinks, “if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you. Because if we are not loyal to the ones we love, what’s the point?”
So the chase begins. Brand, anticipating Griz will follow him, has written in the sand, “DON’T FOLLOW ME!” Griz is not deterred. He tosses some provisions and bedding into the family’s sailboat, along with his father’s rusty Leatherman knife, and his own bow and arrows. Jip, Jess’ mate, jumps into the boat. The morning skies are in their favor as they sail north, looking for the red sails of Brand’s boat.
After some days and nights they land on an island, where they find a ramshackle house where they hunt rabbits for a meal, and rest for the night. In the morning, Griz finds their boat savaged by Brand, who has also taken their provisions and bedding. He has written another warning in the sand: “I told you not to follow me.”
Griz does not consider retreating. With the loss of most provisions and tools to repair the boat, he mends what he can, and they carry on as best as they can, to rescue Jess.
After some time, they reach another island with a tower which promises some relief, and a place to sleep. Here they meet with another traveler, an old woman who only speaks French. She carries a French/English dictionary that she and Griz use to communicate to each other.
She tells him her name, which he makes out as “John Dark.”
They partner for a few days resting in the tower, where Griz finds books to read. The former owners have moved along and have left not only books, but clothes, tools and other necessities. They have left a letter to welcome others who need rest and provisions. Griz and “John Dark” are thankful, and restored, the three leave together to rescue Jess.
The wilderness is dangerous, full of accidents, boars and wolves, weather, fires and Vikings. But Griz and “”John” are brave and creative and they find joy in their quest. They depend on each other.
Many more challenges await them. After all, it’s the end of the world. But even so, the story demonstrates tenacity, purpose and loyalty. It gives us hope.
Annye Camara is a library associate at the Nantucket Atheneum.