Charles A. Fletcher, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World (2019)

A Boy and His Dog

Author: Charles A. Fletcher

Title: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

Format: Paperback

Pages: 369

DNFed at 35% mark

This book has made its rounds in the blogosphere; almost universally praised by many of our fellow bloggers, it was hailed as a unique blending of post-apocalyptic dystopia with a heartfelt reflection on the current state of our world, spiced with an empathic portrayal of the bond between man and dog. It all sounded wonderful. To me, however, this book turned out to be a total hoax.

It is an unremitting diarrhea of words, generated by an old man masquerading himself as a teenager. And here’s the crux of the problem. Nothing in this book seemed even remotely realistic: not the setting, with the mysterious Gelding and a plethora of weird behaviours in response to the realization that end of the humans is near; not the worldbuilding, inconsistent and varying in the amount of details from nearly none to overabundance in just few short paragraphs; and absolutely not the characters. Everything seemed like an elaborate stage setup erected by the author solely for the purpose of expounding – freely and without consequences – on his own opinions on everything. Don’t get me wrong; literature in its entirety is predominantly focused on exactly that, most of the time. Here, though, the smug masquerade incessantly grated on my nerves.

There was nothing honest in this elaborate setup, and while I enjoy my share of subtle sleights of hand, I enjoy them solely on the basis of willing participation on my part, and not because someone sets out to make a fool of me. The total and unchallenged domination of one perspective – not questioned or undermined in any way by others – soon became exceptionally tiresome. For the narrator is a perfect example of der Besserwisser, happy to share with all the world his ruminations in a distinctly Sheldon Cooper-esque way – that it to say: whether the world wants it or not. Doomed to view the world from his viewpoint I soon started to feel deep disenchantment with the whole endeavor; despite that, I tried to finish this book – until I realized that I’m forcing myself to do something I actively dislike.

I only noted down one quote – memorable to me because it so well encapsulates all the things I found unbearable in this book: the self-assured smugness of the general sentiment pervading the quote; the prominent voice of someone much older than a teenager, however precocious he could be, hidden behind the simplified sentence structure; the unquestioned conviction of one’s right, disguised as a hesitant ruminations and hedged by a row of “maybes”.

When I was little I had a stash of old illustrated magazines about superheroes. I loved them for a bit, because they were so bright and drawn with real joy for movement and design […] They tended to walk around in really tight clothes and however much the writers tried to hide the fact, and however much they appeared to fret about what to do, all the stories ended up in a huge fight. Dad said they were written for younger boys really. I liked them despite that, until I didn’t. And when I realized I didn’t, I also knew that it was because everything was always a set-up for a punch-up. As if the only way you could solve a problem was by hitting it. Maybe your world liked fighting so much that it thought it had to prepare kids for that by telling them those kind of stories. Or maybe it was the other way round and your world liked fighting because those were the stories you were given when your minds were young. (p. 63)

Yes, it probably says a lot about me that from all available sentences I chose that one quote about comic books. But for me it reflects either a total misunderstanding of the genre, a pronounced lack of knowledge, or ill will. The horribly simplified way of linking comic books to violence, even in a work of fiction where the protagonist is supposed to be a teenager, sets my teeth on edge. Especially when literally the next scene is all about violence, punches, and open threats of bodily harm (cutting out one’s tongue).

The protagonist, and simultaneously the narrator of the story, oh-so-earnest and puppy-like in his wide-eyed perception of the world, was such an artificial creation that try as I might, I just couldn’t even start suspending my disbelief. As a mouthpiece for the author, he performed exceptionally well: he is a uniquely thoughtful and eloquent teenager, with a strong opinion on every possible topic. Of course, he’s a remarkably well-read teenager, having scavenged books from a handful of houses along the western coast of the British Isles, where, obviously, people faced with the end of the world as they knew it had done nothing but amass extensive libraries. What wasn’t there! Or rather: what wasn’t alluded to, wink-wink, to the knowledgeable reader, to establish rapport and mutual understanding. Even A Canticle for Leibowitz made an appearance, not to mention the possible inspiration for the book and the sure inspiration for the title, Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalyptic A Boy and His Dog. But none of the references truly mattered – at least in the first 130-odd pages of the book. Their role seemed limited to serving as testimonials to the author’s knowledge of the genre, peculiar badges of honor.

I’m sure that part of the blame for this DNF falls on Robertson Davies. Yes, I know I can’t really hold him responsible, especially post mortem, but the fact is that the last book I’d read before I picked up A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World was Davies’ Fifth Business. The chasm between these two books couldn’t have been bigger. Where Davies is effortlessly poetic, subtle, witty and meaningful, while remaining deeply humane and honestly unflinching in the portrayal of his flawed protagonist, respecting the reader as his equal, Fletcher stumbles and plods along the way, trying to achieve depth but resulting only in superfluity of words, forcefully strung together in a slapdash approximation of intellectual entertainment, which ultimately boils down to talking down to his readers.

The most curious thing, however, is that I lost my vitriol toward Fletcher’s book somewhere along the way. You might have not noticed, but I did ;). I actively disliked A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World when I was reading it – so much so, in fact, that I felt physical aversion to picking up my copy. But between the moment I DNFed it and the moment I started writing a review, I read two or three other books, blissfully better than this one, and my ire lessened along the way, leaving only the slight distaste – and a relief that I didn’t have to finish it. I did, however, browse through the remaining pages to see what I would miss – and thus I can truthfully say: nothing of note.

This book reminded me of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, for all the wrong reasons: hailed by many as a modern classic and an approachable philosophical masterpiece, upon closer inspection turned out to be a well-meant fluff. A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World might be an illuminating experience for some – it definitely was that for many readers. To me, unfortunately, it was a total miss.

Score: 2/10

42 thoughts on “Charles A. Fletcher, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World (2019)

  1. But for me it reflects either a total misunderstanding of the genre, a pronounced lack of knowledge, or ill will.

    When I read the quote my first thought was “That’s a willful misinterpretation of the genre by somebody who doesn’t like it and is trying to make it sound like it is the genre’s fault and not his”.

    I think this book would have made me rage against its pretentiousness. Just from your descriptions, this book encapsulates everything that is wrong with the “Literary” genre 😦

    I am glad you were able to get over it so quickly though. That would NOT have happened to me. I’d probably sulk about it for a month, maybe even two 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly. Great minds think alike! 😀

      I actually wanted to like it. The premise was so-so, but so many people whose opinion I value loved it that I thought I’d enjoy it too. But I just couldn’t get into it and I realized I’m going to DNF it when I felt I don’t want to read anymore – not only this, but anything 😉 I didn’t read another page of this book since then, and I’m very happy about it 😉

      What mostly irked me about this book, beside pretentiousness, was the false pretenses at the foundation of the novel. You want to say what you think is wrong with the world? Be my guest. Write an essay or even a book. Who knows, you may end up writing a masterpiece, like A Canticle for Leibowitz. But in order to do that, you can’t simply dress your rants up and pretend they are something else, say, a YA post-apocalyptic dystopia.

      Yeah, good books helped. Otherwise I’d still be raging 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, you made me laugh with the Sheldon Cooper comparison. 😂 Yours is the first really negative review I’ve seen for this book and I love that. Not the fact that you disliked it! (I hope the next book is a better one for you!) But it’s a perfect example of how one story can mean two completely different things for people. Because I personally found the MC really likeable and someone I’d love to be friends with. Though I’m kinda with you on the comic book paragraph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this is probably a very personal preference and an readily admit that psychological realism of characters and internal logic of the depicted worlds are something of my pet peeve 😉

      I’m glad you liked the review even – or especially – if you didn’t agree with it! And yes, the next books were much better, thankfully 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Most people just want confirmation. A book about the current end state of the world AND dogs ticks all the right boxes. Add to that initial raving reviews, and your stuck in a kind of self-perpetuating loop, in which lots of readers forget about the artistic aspect of writing books, but just want to be confirmed/confirm themselves as being part of a community. Particularly the blogosphere is rife with that.

        Liked by 2 people

        • That’s a good point, Bart. There’s probably a lot of that, sort of book fads going around and we’re all in it whether we want it or not.
          Also , I know that it’s a topic that’s been talked about a lot on various blogs, but I think the fact of receiving a copy from the author/publisher still plays a role as well. I for one would probably have been more delicate in expressing my displeasure with this book even if the sentiment was exactly the same 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes indeed. I simply don’t take ARC reviews seriously. Never. For one, blogs that tend to write a decent share of negative/critical reviews don’t get sent as many from publishers anyway, and two, and I know this from experience from the few self-published ARCs I got, I simply didn’t publish a review of those books when they were bad, as you imply, out of courtesy.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh that’s too bad! I enjoyed this book, though I probably didn’t fall head over heels in love with it like a lot of my fellow bloggers. The writing style was actually really tough to get into! I had to switch to audio almost right away because I was about to claw my eyes out! So I do get what you mean by the “unremitting diarrhea of words”, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it was the worst reading experience I had this year, tbh 😉 It was so discordant with everything I came to expect from a good book that I just couldn’t go on – though I must admit I didn’t think of switching to audiobook!

      Like

  4. Ok, thanks for the warning 🙂 I have bigger tolerance of characters being author’s mouthpieces, but this sounds like sth I want to stay away from. And the comic books paragraph is just dumb, in a manner you’d expect in breakfast tv, not in a genre novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, you’re welcome! 😊
      Well, yes to all your points, though I believe even your tolerance would be sorely tested here as the whole first third of this book is one long authorial rant. And the comic book paragraph is just one among many examples of that 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  5. So, tell it to me straight: did you or did you not like it?! 🙂

    Methinks you cannot protest too much if a book not only falls far short of its mark but does it as pretentiously as you describe. And I’m sorry if I was partly instrumental in making you expect high literary standards by recommending Robertson Davies, truly sorry — he does set the bar quite high, doesn’t he? 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🤔 let me think… 🤣

      Oh, that was by far the worst book experience I had this year – mainly due to the pretentious masquerade and lack of honesty on the side of the author.

      I’m sure you are very sorry indeed, Chris! 😜 Especially as I embark on another Davies adventure, namely The Manticore!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sorry this didn’t work for you, but I understand perfectly what it means to approach a book many people have highly praised only to be bitterly disappointed by it – or even coming to hate it with a passion. Books are like people: either the chemistry works, and a beautiful friendship is born, or it doesn’t, and people end up hating each other’s guts 😀
    Better luck next time!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think it’s a matter of hate, but rather of broken trust – which confirms nicely your people metaphor! I think books are lasting expressions of people’s emotional and mental state and their relationship with the outer world of the moment and this particular vision of the world and themselves is something we as readers interact with.
      Thank you! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved your use of “unremitting diarrhea of words”. I don’t know why I find that so beautiful. Oh, and I also love how you killed all hopes that I would ever give this one a try now hahaha Maybe it it lands on my lap for free and I had nothing else to read, I’ll give it a try but otherwise, I guess I’ll look into trying something else… And wow… that quote… I felt triggered. 😦 I do hope you picked up something much better after this one. Fantastic review as always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lashaan, as always! 😀
      This was a tough one for me, vexing enough that I came up with a brand new tag for books as bad as this – “crash and burn”, below “rare” 🤣
      Yes, the subsequent books were a relief after this, even if far from masterpieces. Next I have Asher on my shelf as a pick-me-up, and I’m currently reading another astounding Davies, so things are looking up 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I had the chance for an early review copy of this via Netgalley and there was just something in the back of my mind that told me I’d find it boring. Even despite the numerous positive reviews I have read, I kept thinking ‘this really isn’t for me’.

    If the writing style of that quote is the same throughout, I’d have broken my ‘no DNF rule’.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I still have this book on my library tbr pile (which is far too tall) and am questioning whether I should read it at all now. It’s refreshing to read a review from someone who didn’t enjoy it as I know a lot of people did.
    And the things you didn’t enjoy about it are things that would get my goat …
    But the book DOES have a dog in it …

    I think I’ll do my usual thing and read an couple of pages – see how I get on. But I’ll forgive myself if I don’t like it …

    (Also, I didn’t comment at the time I read it – but I LOVED your review for Fifth Business – one of my favourite books. Just wanted to say). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is a dog, but there’s less of the dog(s) than you’d expect from the book with such title…
      It is a quite personal preference, but if you’re looking for a brutally frank, courageous, open-eyed story, this is not the one 😉

      Go ahead and try it out! I do wonder what you’ll think of it 🙂

      (And thank you very much! I absolutely loved Fifth Business and now I’m reading The Manticore and enjoying it immensely as well :D)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh dear- I’ve been really curious about this book- such a shame it turned out to be a total hoax! It’s a pity it was so annoying and unrealistic. Gotta admit I didn’t like that quote either- I really think it misunderstanding the whole genre- and I’m not a massive comic book reader, but I’ve seen that daft view a million times, usually after something terrible in the news, even though it’s been disproven a million times?! The mc really does sound like a mouthpiece for the author with that. oh dear- comparing it to the Alchemist puts me off even more! Excellent review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for visiting! And thank you for your kind words 😀
      This one was the worst book I’ve read this year, and I do hope I won’t read any worse.
      One of my pet peeves is when author patronizes the readers – and this was very much the case here.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. An interesting review, Ola. I think it’s good to be honest.
    Going by your extract, I’m not drawn to it either, and can easily understand that it would not contrast well with Robertson Davies. Putting aside the subject matter, I’m not drawn to the delivery, which seems stilted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cath!
      It is liberating, sometimes, to be painfully honest – though I find it warranted only in the books where I feel the author hadn’t been honest with me as the reader. It was definitely the case here.
      And yes, the narrative was indeed stilted and the voice of the main character felt very artificial to me – especially contrasted with the natural flow of Davies’ prose!

      Liked by 1 person

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