The Amateurs is a book I’ll be reflecting on for a long time. The opening sentence (I’m a big believer that the opening sentence reveals the quality of the book) intrigued me, and that same curiosity continued over all three parts. The book is structured very much like a play in three acts, complete with an intermission performance.
First we are introduced to a world that was rapidly stripped of almost all people. What is left is just all of the stuff – the houses and garbage and photographs and pets. Electricity is gone, gasoline is almost gone, and food is unpredictable.
Living here are swarms of raccoons, bugs, half-wild dogs, and the small 42-member group of people that, for some reason, didn’t vanish. They are definitely not survivors, and they know it. Instead, they are something else. Lucky? Abandoned? Even they don’t know. Whatever reason they are still there, their hold is fragile and they jokingly refer to themselves as “pioneers” and “cavemen.” The second act pivots to a different group of remainers with more resources than the first group but with their own issues (megalomaniac head, armed surveillance of population, controlled activities, etc.). The third act brings characters from both of these groups together, along with vestiges from before the calamity.
Harmer’s debut novel investigates multiple themes that have been bouncing around in my head for a while, to the point that I’m disappointed she consolidated them into a novel to haunt me before I even had the idea to. Why do we deify the super-successful? In our reliance on a global economy, are we more vulnerable? How is our demand for instant satisfaction changing us – not only in products, but also in our personal relationships?
I needed to take breaks from this book. The characters were too real, their reactions disturbingly correct. When I finally closed the book for the last time, I sat staring at my floor, wondering how do I stand up and go through all the mundane things I had planned for the rest of the day?