A second look at Then, by Julie Myerson
Picture London wasted, in a blanket of freezing snow, with fires and smog which prevents all sunlight reaching you. Amongst the squalor and darkness with frozen corpses lining the streets, no electricity or heat, paucity of food and only moderate signs of life, you have a fractured memory. You can’t quite recall who you are and what’s happening. You continuously fail to remember who the people you see are - how bad do you think it could be?
The answer is probably worse than you can imagine.
Myerson thankfully has used her imagination for us, creating a chilling, cryptic, apocalyptic story taking you into the emotional hell that Izzy with her memory loss is transcended into. Thus producing a dynamic puzzle as she takes the reader through present, past and a peculiar realm that may or may not be a quirky reality.
A daring and somewhat risky strategy as the novel moves quickly and deftly between time. Troubling details are seeped into the story, which offer clues and insight into what has really happened, but are timed and structured in a manner as to remain perplexing and opaque. This makes it difficult to determine whether what is being relayed is in the present, the past or, if following Izzy’s state of mind is indeed a true account at all.
Finding refuge with some tolerable ‘companions’ in an abandoned office building, inferences of sexual exploitation and violence with no accountability or remorse, this story is most effective because it is told in the 1st person by Izzy whose name we do not learn until well into the book. Because of this you have only a one-dimensional account of her world, which may be an honest account or completely distorted. The characters involved in Izzy’s world do not convey much warmth, but this maybe more reflective of Izzy’s own lack of emotional inter-connectivity. She does yearn for a state of happy families but even her so-called memories are highly complicated.
The blend of a stark description of the eerie, oppressive, unremitting horror that has become London is complimented by a dialogue driven storyline, conveying with clear meaning how the inconceivable can become a person’s reality. This makes it highly readable and pacy. The intrigue is stretched probably for just about the right length of time as any further and it could become frustrating. Indeed Myerson doesn’t let the story be strung out more than is necessary making it quite a swift read. The dénouement however offers no comfort. It tackles uncomfortable human behaviour head on. Sometimes we forget for a reason. Sometimes are own worlds are fractured. Sometimes you find horror in the most banal of everyday life.