Charlie Higson is probably best known as part of a series that for many in the UK was one of the funniest things to watch on TV in the 90's - the Fast Show (known as Brilliant in the US).
The irreverent and often off-beat humour was guaranteed to make me laugh and still does. Until this year I didn't know that Higson had turned his talented mind to writing novels.
The Enemy is the first book in a young adult post-apocalyptic series where everyone over the age of 16 has caught an infection that turns them into little more than walking dead. These "mothers" and "fathers" shamble around constantly trying to capture and consume the flesh of the young. These aren't just the slow-moving zombie though, many can run fast and some seem to have a hidden, malevolent intelligence.
Hiding out in an abandoned Waitrose a group of kids fight to stay alive. Surviving in a decaying, broken London the streets of which seem full of rotting grown-ups. These brave children eke out an existence by being smart, avoiding trouble and scavenging what they can.
The post-apocalyptic world of The Enemy reminded me of the Afterblight Chronicles and in some ways it does feel like a young adult version of the series. The Enemy though is written in the popular young adult style of clipped, short and brisk dialogue. It's also written in the kids own vernacular, something that feels entirely natural after the first few pages or so. This fast and dynamic writing lends itself perfectly to the world of the Enemy where a kid can get snatched at any moment or even hunted down by packs of hungry hounds.
What really stands out though is the characterization which is simply superb. Each of the 8-15 year old kids are brought to realistic life in the most marvelous manner. Right from the very beginning as a reader you are drawn to the childrens plight and feel genuine sorrow when one of the gang don't make it. That's also part of the magic too, the group dynamic.
It all seems entirely plausible while they all seem to take quite realistic actions. The relationship between the members of the group and other groups of kids is at the heart of the novel and it's an insightful commentary on group dynamics and human strengths and weaknesses - or more accurately the strengths and weaknesses of the young. I guess comparisons will inevitably be made with the Lord of the Flies - as just about any Dystopian "group of children left alone" novel is. There are of course some similar messages, the idea of individual well-being against the good of the group being one, but I think they stand apart sufficiently to avoid fair comparison.
There are some very insightful, bittersweet and sobering moments; when one of the group decide to stay behind alone it becomes clear that this horrific world has altered him in different ways than the others. You just can't help feel for these kids in this plight. That's another point too, the book doesn't just appeal to the young adult but also to the older adult, the parent especially. Reading this book from a parents perspective as I do, it must be a very different experience to that of the target audience, horrifying for different and yet just as compelling reasons.
The ending is pretty open-ended, leaving you with the immediate and compelling urge to start reading the next book in the series (always a good sign).
The enemy is an accomplished, clever story that should appeal to the young and older reader alike.
Written on Friday 17th October 2014 by Antony.
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