In the aftermath of nuclear war (Russia and USA), we follow various survivors in a devastated America, struggling to make sense of a new world: their new bleak reality. There are opposing factions on how to rebuild America (eke out a living) and the curious influence of Friend – The Man of Many Faces, a malevolent entity, personification of evil if you will, who revels in the desolation.
Reading Swan Song is an arduous task, not because it’s almost a thousand pages long, its post-apocalyptic setting or horror aspects but because it breaks your heart to experience the survivors’ journey in a destroyed world that doesn’t function as it used to. It is hard going to see the survival of the fittest and canny at the expense of the more deserving
Men are beasts, you know. They take pretty things…and they make them ugly.Sheila Fontana, Recreation Lady
The hardship and danger they face is all the more terrifying for me as the realities of the situation looks so close to home. Every time I’ve read it, whatever the decade, it’s been believable in the current political climate. Running through my mind whilst reading is ‘this could happen, this could happen any day now’. And that’s one of the elements that makes it almost unbearable to read.
Together with the terror that this plot could become my, our reality, I also find trite and clichéd phrases flashing through my mind as I read: ‘ of good overcoming evil’, ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ and ‘perseverance in the face of adversity ‘ We are clearly shown the depths that humanity will sink to when the world is in darkness.
But as much as they are hackneyed expressions, they are also true. The characters’ pain and suffering hurt, it’s like a body blow sometimes or a nagging pain that won’t go away.
Yet, it is not all doom and gloom, there is a thread of hope that runs throughout the book, that you cheer on and are encouraged to see grow. It makes you value friendship and family as people working towards the same common goal, who want the best for each other and who care for each other. It is the redeeming presence throughout the book of good people that saves the reader from overwhelming sadness.
…Swan had realized that forgiveness crippled evil, drew the poson from it like lancing a boilSwan reflecting on her interaction with Friend
In summary, yes it is heartbreaking: there are scenes of dread, pain and torment but the strength of love triumphs at the end although ultimately at a cost.
It is a tremendous book, and my opinion on the plot and themes haven’t changed in this reading, I remain with the certainty that redemption is possible, forgiveness is possible and hope lives on.
An abbreviated version of this book review was shared on Goodreads