Book Reviews

The End of the World Running Club – Adrian J Walker

“Beliefs are strange. Things of certainty about things uncertain. Take mine for example. I believe there are graves in the field next to the house where I live. I stop at the fence every morning and I look at three lashed crosses standing crooked against the sea, and I believe I know who is buried beneath them. 

But I can’t be sure. So I believe instead. I supposed I could dig them up, but, as I see it, there are only two ways that little enterprise can end and neither of them is particularly palatable. Besides, if you have to go round digging up graves to prove your own sanity then you’ve probably already lost it.”

Oh my goodness, where do I start with this one? Well let me just start out with a virtual round of applause for Adrian J Walker for this incredible novel. It’s just joined the list of my favourite novels. And he has others!! They’ll quickly be joining my to be read list. 

So how does one go about defining The End of the World Running Club. Well as the title suggests it is set during and after an asteroid strike; note the “End of the World” part. It follows the protagonist Edgar, or Ed as he is mostly referred to throughout the book who is a 35 year old man living in Edinburgh. He’s got a family; a loving wife called Beth, a daughter Alice and his son Arthur. However he’s not the best. He’s an overweight regular drinker and a very reluctant father. He’s often dreamt about being left in the world on his own, as if the world has ended, but he didn’t expect it to actually happen. 

The family are forced to live in their basement for a couple of weeks before they are rescued and offered refuge in a nearby army barracks just in the nick of time, with the hop that they’ll be picked up by helicopters for evacuation from the UK to somewhere safer. Whilst at the barracks Ed offers to go on salvage runs to find food and other supplies with a few others but on their return they find they’ve just missed their evacuation; left behind by their families. 

This novel follows Ed’s journey, as well as the friends he makes, across the United Kingdom, from Edinburgh to Cornwall, to find his family. It’s a true exploration of what the human mind and body is capable of. 

So, why do I love this novel so much? 

There are a few reasons I could throw out and not talk about in detail but I really want people to understand where my love for this book comes from. So I think I’ll start by looking at some of the characters, because they are phenomenal. 

Ed is the perfect protagonist for a book about a man running across the UK to find his family. He’s overweight and actively seeks to avoid his family when he can. It’s such a complicated situation that he is put in and Walker really uses the first person narration for us to see Ed’s physical and emotional torment throughout. And boy does he go through some rough times. They all do. 

Also, as part of the salvage group, and later the running club, are Richard, Harvey and Bryce. These men are also civilians but all have something to offer Ed. Richard is a father as well and often has Ed’s side when people begin to question his role as a father and his dedication to his family. He’s also lost his wife and therefore feels the same desire as Ed to reach the evacuation point in Cornwall, so that he can be with his son. 

Harvey is the one who teaches Ed how to run effectively. Throughout the novel we hear about his incredibly running adventures and whilst they do seem a little unbelievable at times, it acts as a little comfort to Ed to know that it is possible to cover the 20 miles a day they have to average. He’s also an Australian (if that helps you at all). Thinking a little more about it and looking at Adrian J Walker’s biography the two seem a little similar, I don’t know if this is in fact the case but I’d be interested to know if he took any experiences from his own life when writing for Harvey. 

Bryce is probably my favourite of the male characters purely for how he’s described by Walker; “His eyes twinkled like diamonds from a deep coal pit. His hair was black and long and a beard covered half of his face, all of his neck and what appeared to be a permanent grin.” He’s such an interesting character to me because when we first meet him he’s full of bravado and yet as the novel progresses we see  him start to soften and become more human than “bear” as he’s described by Ed’s daughter, Alice. There was one particular moment where I really began to dislike him, but that was quickly rectified. And that moment was during a conversation with a character called Grimes. 

Laura Grimes is one of the army personnel who is out on the salvage mission when the evacuation helicopters leave. She’s very strong yet has a very kind heart. Bryce tries to intimidate her, asking if she should really be out with them or if she needs protecting and she just hits back with the fact that she’s really protecting him, although she was seriously debating stopping doing so. I think she’s such an interesting character who I really enjoyed reading about. 

There are another two people with them on their salvage trip; Yuill and Henderson. However, I think I’ll let you read about those two for yourself. 

What Walker has done incredibly well as far as I’m concerned as a reader, is create really well rounded characters who carry the plot with them. Even the secondary characters are fleshed out to a point where you almost want to read more about them. For example they meet a teenage single mum called Gloria with her new born Sofia and I wanted to read about how her life changed after the asteroids hit. The same with Rupert who they meet at Bartonmouth Hall. And I even wanted to read more about Jenny Rae (who is by far one of the most terrifying people in this novel). Every single person has a flaw but also has something they’re working towards. No one is completely good or completely evil. Often times you can find yourself sympathising with someone you know you shouldn’t because you understand their actions. 

Additionally, what I love most is that this is a novel set in the UK. I love novels set in Britain. To me they just mean so much more because understand the geography of where they are and how far it is to get from A to B. Even more importantly with this novel was to understand the devastation of the place. To find out London has essentially become a giant crater made me understand the level of destruction that had been caused and how many people must have died or been injured in that one asteroid hit. It also allows me to have a good indication of the scale of the task at hand. Whilst I can claim to know how large America is from one side to the other, I don’t. It’d be harder for me to get my head around that scale than it is for me to do so with the place I currently live it. The well crafted devastation really meant that the novel was full of unexpected twists. I learnt that in an end of the world situation, don’t rely on finding a car. Because even if you do it might not get you very far. And stay away from the coastline if possible. Sometimes it’ll have become swamp like. 

The novel’s themes are obvious ones such as endurance and family, but there is also an undercurrent of love. Whether it’s love for themselves or the longing for or rejection of love, Walker covers it all. In this desolate place that has been created, there is nothing quite so heartbreaking as seeing someone long for the love of another and be rejected, or to discover someone’s love just too late. Pair that with the exhaustion and hunger that you feel alongside the characters who have to struggle through this wasteland, meeting all kinds of people and battling, at times, with each other, this novel becomes incredibly overwhelming in places. The ending of this novel feels as though it should be the happiest ending to a story that there could be. A clichéd reunion between Ed and his family, Bryce finding someone he can love as much as he loves himself or alcohol, and Richard finding his son. I’m not going to tell you the exact ins and outs because I’m not a spoiler of books unless asked specifically. But just be prepared with a box of tissues. In fact I’d have them there from the start. 

Yet what Walker has done so well is juxtapose these dark times with humour, either in the form of Bryce’s excitement about finding miniatures of alcohol, to just conversations that they have. The way that Walker writes, utilising the first person, is incredibly engaging and made me want to continue reading. The narrative voice was something that, in fact, kept me going. This, with the characters and the plot line itself, is really one of the reasons it’s one of my new favourite books.

This novel taught me a lot about my own self too. I learnt that I can be resilient and can conquer that inner voice that says that I can’t do it. I learnt that, especially in running, it’s better to take smaller steps and make smaller decisions, all of which amount to one larger outcome. I feel that I have learnt so much about human strength and the capability to survive when the worst happens whilst building friendships and keeping each other strong. It’s going to be one I reread when I need to remember that not everything is so bad and that there’s always a positive to what seems like the end of the world. 

Total pages – 464

Total read time –  Untimed

Rating /10 – 8.5/9

Recommend – Yes

Also, once you’ve read it. Go back and reread the first chapter of the book again. Realise all of the things that you didn’t originally and revel in the feeling that you now know something you didn’t before. You won’t regret it. 

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