OK, so Mary Shelley, you know her – she wrote Frankenstein. Did you know she wrote other books? Yes, indeed, several others. Do you know why you haven’t heard of them? They are terrible. Wait. Maybe you have heard of The Last Man. Yes? It’s one of the first post-apocalypse novels! It’s still terrible.
I can’t stress enough how bad this book is. And it has everything going for it. But… no. Bad.
I guess we can go into it anyway, if you’d like. The basic setup is that a guy named Lionel is really bitter because his father was friends with the king, but was run out of the court because of his gambling debts, or something. So Lionel’s a dick. He trespasses on other people’s land, hunts their stuff, steals sometimes, but in his head it makes sense because all that should have been his. Even though his father still never owned massive properties or anything. So. Uh. Rebellion! Romanticism! Fire! Stupid!
Lionel is taken in by a man about his own age named Adrian. Adrian is awesome, handsome, smart, funny, but no homo, bro.
Seriously, though – Lionel was kind of a portrait of Mary Shelley, and Adrian was a portrait of her late husband, Percy. So, well, it gets weird sometimes.
Adrian has a sister. Of course he does! Idris is her name, and she is awesome and loyal and smart and beautiful and so on, so on. Lionel has a sister too! Her name is Perdita. The difference between them is, well, nothing. Hold on. Perdita is foolishly loyal, to an extreme! That’s a difference, right? It counts, right? I think they have different hair colors too. Awesome.
So Lionel marries Idris, and Adrian never marries anyone, ever, no way, because vaginas? Those are fucking gross, man. Give him a big, throbbing social problem to handle, yes sir. Adrian doesn’t want to get married because, why would he? I guess. Whatever.
OK. Perdita marries Lord Raymond. Raymond’s a douche, but he’s a war hero, I guess. And he wants to be king, except England got rid of kings, so he has to be chancellor. Except he’s a douche. But then he’s less of a douche, because plot.
At this point do you think I’ve spent too long on the bullshit love plots? Would you like me to get on to the apocalypse, the crumbling of everyone’s infrastructure, the horrible plague? Well, take that up with the fucking author, cause we’re nearly halfway through the book now! Seriously. Shit all happens for hundreds of pages, and it happens slowly. I guess there’s something where Adrian’s mother wants Adrian to be king, because his father was the last king, and kings are badass and all that, but Adrian won’t have any of that. So because she’s pissed, Adrian’s mom hides Idris away when Lionel was just getting to know her; Adrian’s mom hates Lionel because, uh, plot. So I guess some things happen sometimes, and people get sick sometimes because they take trips and ride horses really fast.
Raymond gets sick of being chancellor, because his wife doesn’t like it, and so he resigns and goes back to the war he left already, and that hasn’t been mentioned much at all at this point. It’s in Greece, and probably I think it’s helping Greece win independence from someone, because all the Romantics wanted Greek independence and why the hell would this book have anything that wasn’t something Percy Shelley and his buddies did?
Adrian kind of takes over while Raymond’s gone, but only a bit. I guess. And then Raymond dies, because he was going to, are you surprised? And then the plague.
That’s kind of how it works. Love drama, love drama, Idris is nearly drugged and forced to marry someone, love drama, PLAGUE!
Everything gets crappy. This is the part that redeems the book somewhat. And by that I mean for historians of literature. Not for people who enjoy books for enjoyable people with enjoyable stories, characters, and prose in them. Shelley points out that the infrastructure of the country would go to hell. People don’t hear from towns only a day’s ride away, because people are too sick, or too afraid of strangers, to stir abroad. People get run out of town if they’re strangers, because they could be carrying the plague, who knows? Also they’re strangers, so fuck them. There’s a weird subplot about an astronomer who keeps talking about what his research says about the state of the planet centuries in the future, and he ignores his family getting sick until they all die. And he can’t catch the plague to save his life (ha ha ha. Oh god). So that’s good.
There was this one woman Adrian was in love with. I mean, purportedly. But she’s in love with Raymond, and when she can’t have Raymond, she becomes a crazy poor shut in architect, secretly planning the new buildings under Raymond’s regime. So a superhero, but with a straight rule.
Adrian eventually leads the entire population of England still remaining to France. It takes three ships. That’s, well, not a lot of people. And they still nearly leave some folks behind. The plague is worse in France, because, well, no English Channel to stop it spreading, right? We’re in an early 19th century novel here, diseases come from Asia. Idris dies in the preparations, because I guess worrying a lot made her sick already, and they rode some horses really hard to find those people I mentioned that were nearly left behind.
A crazy cult splits off from the main group, but the leader’s a jackass, and after he kills himself everyone comes back. They trek off to Switzerland, people dropping off every day. And then there are four people left. Lionel, Adrian, and Lionel’s kids. Because of course they’re left alive. They decide to sail to Greece, because so many awesome things happened there, right, and their Edenic, pastoral lives in Switzerland weren’t good enough for them. And naturally everyone but Lionel drowns.
End of book. Thank goodness.
Seriously. Don’t read this book. Ever.