Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 31, 2020

Rise and Shine, by Patrick Allington

Back in 2010 when this blog was still very young, I reviewed Patrick Allington’s first book, Figurehead which had been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.  It remains in my memory as an outstanding novel which tackled some complex moral issues in an entertaining way.  (Which is mostly what I like my books to do).

Ten years later comes Rise and Shine which—though set in a dystopean world after an apocalypse—again wrestles with complex issues.  Amongst other things, it’s about leadership, and how it can lose its way, even when it’s motivated by the common good.

‘Rise’ and ‘Shine’ are two cities on what’s left of the earth after the catastrophe which left it bereft of animal and plant life, and subject to toxic rain.

No one who survived could really say whether it was a single big catastrophe, or a series of smaller messes, or if it was just the slow grind of excess.  Probably it was all of that.  Maybe Russia dropped a bomb on San Francisco.  Maybe it didn’t.  Maybe the Nile became poisoned.  Maybe it didn’t.  Maybe the last of the ice caps turned yellow.  Maybe they didn’t.  Maybe Vitamin C turned out to be carcinogenic. Maybe it didn’t.  Governments of all brands, the UN, the anti-UN, the World Bank, FIFA all spoke loud and long about what needed to happen, but by then no one could tell information from lies.

The details hardly matter now.  The earth, pushed past its limits, began to eat its own.  Most of the eight billion victims died over a period of a few months.  Quickly, slowly: these things are relative.  Living another day, and another, depended on who you were and where you were. (p.1)

Drones and robots have established that there’s nothing left in the barren landscape, only these two cities, founded by the charismatic Barton and Walker and their four offsiders, Cleave, Hail, Curtin and Holland.  Thirty years after they found each other in extremis, they are still alive, though sick, in the way that everyone is.

Cleave lives in self-imposed isolation, and is the Chief Scientist in Rise.  With the assistance of Malee, who collects and analyses information for her, Cleave interprets data for toxicity, pathogens and salinity in the precious water supply, and she observes the environment far and wide for any signs of emerging plant or animal life.  So science has been elevated to an important and respected position in this society.

Curtin is the Chief Medical Officer, tasked with keeping the population alive. But increasingly her time is focussed on the health of Walker, attending to his tumours and sores.  Minions help him dress in garb that conceals his wasted frame, because it is important that the figurehead looks the part.  But Walker thinks it’s more important that she attend to others.  This is a society whose leader is focussed on the common good.

Hail is Walker’s Chief of Staff, an ebullient man who deliberately provokes Walker each day because that is what brings out the best in him.  The dialogue and black humour between these two (as in Figurehead) is brisk and lively and whisks the plot along.  Irritating as Hail is, he is good at reading people and managing them.

Barton—the bravest of them all—and the leader of Shine, is off-stage in the early part of the book.  Thirty years ago when she and Walker conceived a survival plan, she had said that they would need an enemy to make it work.  She offers to lead that enemy, and so evolves a perpetual war between the cities that, bizarrely, is their means of survival.  Holland (who goes to war ‘miked-up’), is the commander of the Walker forces, leading elaborately staged engagements with the forces from Shine.  Film of these engagements is broadcast at meal times, to satisfy the citizens’ need to be moved by human suffering.  Despite the graphic footage, no one is actually meant to die…

Each film ends with the message ‘Let’s be tender’, warning citizens against violence because they can see the suffering on screen.  (They can’t avoid it.  It’s everywhere.)

So this society is built on disinformation—and the credulous (who enjoy these films) believe it all and shout down any opposition.  Geraldina has some hesitant doubts… She tells her husband Flake that Imma from the office has seen the amputee from ‘The Battle of Bare Hills’ walking around in plain daylight on his own two feet, and that Imma says that the films aren’t real.

‘All that blood and still she doesn’t believe what her own eyes tell her.’ […] If the war wasn’t real, none of us would care.  That’s basic biology, right? Right? If none of us cared, we’d all be dead.  I mean, what on earth is she talking about?’

Geraldina promptly acquiesces.  (Flake sneaks off to the equivalent of a porn shop for a close-up photo from ‘The Battle of Sergeant Sala’.)

There’s another droll sequence in which journalist Ajok (skilled in the art of smiling and not asking awkward questions) interviews Walker (equally skilled in detecting her next move). The interview is a PR event for the upcoming peace talks between President Heelton of Rise and President Rant of Shine.  Everyone knows the talks will be inconclusive. It’s a Catch-22 situation: Rise is insisting (and has for the last thirty years) that there must be two meals a day, so by definition there must be films of battles to satisfy this hunger.  I couldn’t help thinking of American presidential rallies when I read about the bunting and bands that accompany the arrival of the two puppet presidents…

As the novel progresses, it becomes unputdownable.  Surveillance systems go into hyperdrive when the status quo is threatened and the suppression of dissidents reminds us of Orwell and Huxley.  Written long before COVID_19 was on the horizon, Rise and Shine is a reminder to beware of autocratic saviours whose mantra is the common good…

Author: Patrick Allington
Title: Rise and Shine
Cover design by Scribe, artwork: Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 17 by Hilma af Klint
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2020
ISBN: 9781925849769, pbk., 233 pages
Review copy courtesy of Scribe

Available from Scribe and all good bookstores


Responses

  1. This does sound excellent, although maybe a bit too near the knuckle for me at the moment…

    Like

    • It’s very strange… a lot of readers (and non-readers) are looking for comfort reading and/or plague reading… but I’m just reading the same stuff as I usually do, and I reckon that’s what’s keeping me sane. (More or less).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On my list! (You’ve done it again :-)…)

    Like

  3. Sounds very powerful Lisa, though I’m not sure I could cope with something so close to home right now…

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  4. Probably to close to future thinking with the amount of fear currently worldwide there is already increasing numbers of doomsday prepers

    Like


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