By Dave Wallis (Dutton; 1964)
An early entry in the realistic apocalypse subgenre that has given us speculative downers like WILD HARBOUR by Ian MacPherson and VALHALLA by Newton Thornburg. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE isn’t in the same league as those, lacking their galvanizing nightmarish charge. The very definition of a cult novel, it’s beloved by some (including Mick Jagger, who allegedly purchased the film rights, and Grant Morrison, who referenced it in THE INVISIBLES), but I fail to see its appeal.
It is an appropriately harsh and unflinching vision, I’ll say that much. That’s despite the silly WILD IN THE STREETS-esque premise positing that the world’s adults are killed off by an unexplained suicide disease. This leaves civilization in tatters, with the under-twenty crowd in charge.
Once all the adults have been killed off (which takes roughly 60-70 pages) the novel focuses on a raucous band of British teens and their struggle to survive. Initially they go nuts, bottoming out in an orgy of sex and wonton destruction. But they’re still faced with all manner of scariness. Among the hardships are widespread power outages, a new form of plague, bands of wild dogs and an unexpected pregnancy. Eventually, though, the youngsters wise up and learn to subside in this world gone mad, and become responsible individuals in the process.
This story might have worked, but only with a more invigorating treatment. Problems include much perfunctory description and an over reliance on dialogue to advance the narrative. None of the protagonists are especially memorable, and despite the toughness of the novel their situation is never as dire as one might reasonably expect. Essentially what we get is a lot of complaining, and while this may seem like a realistic approach, it makes for a less-than-invigorating reading experience.