Book Review

Afterland by Lauren Beukes



Book Title: Afterland


Author:  Lauren Beukes

Goodreads Link: Click here

Release Date:  7/28/20

Star Rating: 1 stars  –  DNF 45%

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Children of Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this “bowstring-taut, visceral, and incredibly timely” thriller about how far a mother will go to protect her son from a hostile world transformed by the absence of men.

Most of the men are dead. Three years after the pandemic known as The Manfall, governments still hold and life continues — but a world run by women isn’t always a better place.

Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs. On the run after a horrific act of violence-and pursued by Cole’s own ruthless sister, Billie — all Cole wants is to raise her kid somewhere he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource or a sex object or a stand-in son. Someplace like home. – Goodreads

Hmm, sounds promising.  I LOVE The Handmaid’s Tale, and this book said it would focus on a different type of dystopia, one where men were the rarity.  Unfortunately, this book failed to live up to its promise.

The relationships between the characters is affected by a very cavalier way of describing their communications.  Their deepest emotions are constantly trivialized with an odd, impersonal attempt at humor through unending pop culture references.  In one passage, a woman comes to a realization about death and her own weariness,

“Tired and numb, the grief woven through with anger.  Worst friendship bracelet ever.”

She just undermined her own … jeez I just … never mind. Hashtags, inside jokes and references to Ed Sheeran, abound in this book and I don’t think it has the effect the author was striving for. For one thing, it will really date this book, imagine reading Afterland again in 20 years time and actually understanding any of this nonsense?  It really takes the reader away from the moment.  I found it hard to connect to any of the characters and I partially blame the glibness with which they are treated.

The one thing that made me literally toss my kindle away and officially DNF was one moment in particular.  An 11 year old boy is asked by his aunt whether he is masturbating yet, because she would like some of the sperm to sell on the black market.  His response is horror (obviously) and titillation.  Now we are subjected to an entire paragraph about how he is fighting an erection.  The author goes on to trivialize his reaction by sprinkling in word jokes about how thinking the word “penis” makes it react, and say “pat me”.  WTF. It goes on from there.  Sexual abuse is not freaking funny. You know, I didn’t put up with this kind of shit when Murakami was writing it, why would I do it now?

On top of all that, I found the world building to be a little superficial.  There was no real explanation for how and why culture, government and society changed.  The world was just full of women now, and those women were distilled down to very predictable roles.  I’m sorry, a world with an army now made up of all women women does not equal an army of only masculine women .. and I honestly dislike the inference that only a certain kind of woman will be in the military.  It’s distasteful that non-binary people should be stereotyped into being just one type of person, or that they will all act in the same way.  I feel like I don’t have the language to describe how annoying this is and I would hate to say something to offend, so I asked a couple of friends to help me arrange my thoughts… here’s what they came up with:

“The army is comprised of hyper-masculine women that play upon, both in behavior and appearance, harmful tropes regarding women who choose to present as masculine, lesbians and non-binary persons.  Non-binary, rather than being removed from the binary as the word suggests and instead of providing a wide breadth of identity and expression, is used to pigeonhole characters into one type of person.  In addition, the choice to make this army strictly beholden to a strict set of gender norms that forces the more masculine women or androgynous person into a role fit for ‘men’ is also a strange one to make in terms of what it says about femininity.  The aesthetic appearance of a person, their hair, their swagger or style is not an inherent indicator of their skill as a soldier or how well they perform roles of manual labor often set aside as ‘male roles.’ The author has created a world without men which is still under the spell of patriarchal powers.”  (thank you Cat & Eri for helping me with this!)

I feel the book showed a lack of real understanding of women and non-binary persons and how they should be portrayed.

This book made me actively angry, I’m annoyed thinking about it now.  I know that sometimes a bad review might make some people more interested in reading it … more power to you.  I hope you like it better than I did.  Wholehearted DNF.

4 thoughts on “Afterland by Lauren Beukes

  1. No anger, I’m in total agreement. I felt like the book largely ignored the most interesting half of the story. For all its potential to explore gender issues and say something really profound, it wouldn’t have been any different of a read if it were zombies or vampires or an abusive husband (rather than a man plague) behind Cole’s flight.

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