Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Davy - Edgar Pangborn

This is an interesting book. I liked it a lot, but at the same time, it didn't totally work for me. It's worth bearing in mind this book was first published in the 60's, and is actually a precursor to today's post-apocalyptic genre writing.


Summary: Davy is a memoir set in a post-apocalyptic North America. It begins, more or less, with his 14 year old self running away from servitude, and ends with him as a married, adult man, still running after being on the losing side of a revolution.


The world is vivid and beautifully imagined, this is not a typical dystopia, nor has the past been entirely wiped out. There are still remnants of today's world available, fragments, poorly understood texts, some small ruins and artefacts of the "Old Times". But just as we can only imagine ancient Egypt,and probably have a lot of things quite wrong. What Davy's world understands about the 20th century is sometimes hilariously misunderstood, and sometimes surprisingly perceptive. 



Also unlike most post-apocalyptic novels, the world is not a complete mess. There is functioning government, social structure, even social welfare (sort of). Also unlike most post-apocalyptic novels, there's not one group in charge either. The church (The Holy Murcan church, heh) holds a great deal of power - atheists are burned at the stake, for instance. But the regions range from empires to democratically elected governments, to elected kingships and all sorts of combinations. The world reads like a combination of the church power of the Holy Roman Empire in medieval Europe, crossed with slavery era United States, and it's a heck of an interesting mix.


The novel is largely written in a vernacular, and that takes a bit of getting used to.but it flows pretty well. It jumps around a little in time, with Davy partly telling how he ended up on an island in the Azores, with a wife and his wife's cousin, after failing to hold a government in a province called Nuin (which I think is New England), and partly tellling us his life story beginning from an early age, and constantly dropping hints about what happened in the middle when he spent some time with a roving fair group of actors/singers/etc.


So my main problem is the pacing is quite random. Which our narrator Davy actually lampshades at one point, saying he's written half the book, but now the main story is done, so the rest is all epilogue. The story of his early life is most interesting, but with the amount of hints dropped about the time with the Ramblers and how important it is to him, that section is in fact fairly brief, and the actual story of the revolution and his escape from it is told piecemeal the whole way through. But the whole thing is engaging enough to keep me reading the whole thing. 


As a FYI, there's a fair of sex here, but it's quite hilariously written. Adult Davy laughs at teenage Davy's failings in the area, but it's all very carefree. A bit hippy style, even. Something to do to fill in time when you're bored camping out in a cave, for instance.


What worked for me very well was the unique view of the world. I'm so used to genre dystopia where the entire world has fallen and either failed to pick itself back up (Jay Posey's Three for instance, or the Walking Dead, or The Road) or been put back together all wrong by a power elite (Allegiance or Hunger Games style), that this just sparkled for me. It's highly original and at it's best a lot of fun, and even at it's worst it's not boring.


In fact, I'm a little surprised more people haven't riffed off this the way they have off things like I am Legend or Brave New World, because there are a lot of stories you could tell in a world like this.


Recommended for: Anyone who loves dystopia / post-apocalyptic, but is finding the genre tropes getting a bit old. 

Not recommended for: If you don't like the vernacular style writing, this would be very hard going. Ditto if you like a more linear story.