California by Edan Lepucki

18774020When I read the premise for California, it appealed to me on two levels. First, I am a sucker for books about survival and living off the land, whether it be pioneering or the end of the world. Second, with the many books coming out recently (is it just me?) that are dystopian/apocalyptic/speculative fiction, I have been very curious about how many different scenarios writers can dream up on this topic. I think people who write about the future (well) should be commended for, not only their writing, but also their imagination.

On the back of the book there is a myriad of praise for California, including “Thrilling”, “Brilliant”, Stunning”, and “Astonishing”. Although, those are not the words I would use to describe this book, I would agree with “A big, gripping and inventive story” and “An entertaining and stimulating debut”. California kept my interest, it seemed like a story that could actually happen, and I was curious about how it was going to end.

About the ending, though. I thought the ending was left wide open. Possibly the author wants us to speculate on the future ourselves, based on what we know could or might happen next. Possibly she’s thinking of writing a sequel. I don’t know. But, I do know that I felt like the story wasn’t over.

I thought the best part of the book was when Cal and Frida were alone in the wilderness, not knowing where they were, not knowing who was around or how safe they were. I think that would be the worst part- the not knowing. As the story goes on, there are more and more questions. Slowly, we learn more about their past, and eventually we learn about some of the others living in the area and what they have planned for the future. But, the book ends before we get to find out about all the potential plans we have just heard about. And, for now, Cal and Frida seem to be safe, but it is not likely to last.

Another aspect of the novel is how Cal and Frida’s relationship changes as their circumstances change. We are given insights into both Cal and Frida’s thoughts throughout the story. How do they interact when they are living all alone? How does their relationship change when they are suddenly living with many other people in a place where there are plans and secrets? And, how will their relationship hold up when they move on again at the end of the book where there are even more secrets and uncertainty?

How impossible, though, to turn one’s back on all the horrors in the world; there had to be another way to live.

Overall, California explores a possible future in which there is chaos; a breakdown of government, safety, availability of resources; and a much widened gap between rich and poor. It explores the relationship within an American marriage under much different circumstances than we find ourselves in today. It was a good read if you’re looking for a book to entertain you for a while, and scare you a little bit. It reminded me of Swarm by Lauren Carter, which also takes place in the near future. However, Swarm felt more immediate and real, with much better writing.

If you read this book, what did you think of it or the ending? Do you like to read this type of book, or are you tired of all the speculation? What have been your favourite apocalyptic novels?

Here’s a good review of California from The Guardian: Edan Lepucki’s hit story of marriage after the apocalypse. 

Edan Lepucki’s website. Her first book, If You’re Not Yet Like Me, looks worth checking out!

A review @ The Gilmore Guide to Books.

 

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17 thoughts on “California by Edan Lepucki

  1. Cathy746books says:

    I really like the sound of this one. I don’t mind open endings (I am one of the few who thought The ending if The Sopranos was perfect) but I’m not keen on them if they are hinting at a sequel or leave plot points hanging. Black Water Rising had an ending like that and I felt it let the book down.

    • Naomi says:

      I can’t tell if this one was hinting at a sequel or not. It didn’t occur to me right away, so maybe not? I did try to find out if she was writing a sequel, and I didn’t find anything in my search. I think it was a fun book! Just don’t read it if you are tired of apocalyptic fiction or annoyed by open endings. 🙂

  2. Cecilia says:

    When you said that you enjoy books about surviving off of land, I immediately thought, that’s the one kind of story I am terrified about! I really don’t like thinking about it though it has not stopped me from watching a couple of shows/movies with this theme. So maybe I will look up this book and see…

  3. Alex says:

    I’ve just read Emily St John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ which was superb. I’m not a post apocalyptic reader normally but that book is more than just an exploration of what if, it also looks at what society would refuse to allow to die in such a situation and comes out with the answer ‘culture and creativity’. I’ve asked for a copy of this novel because a couple of people have recommended it but it will have to be very good to top the Mandel.

    • Naomi says:

      I have heard Station Eleven is much better than California, which is why I am glad I read California first. I actually have Station Eleven on hold at the library. I can’t wait to read it! You might want to go into California with different expectations. For example, although it entertained me, I wouldn’t call it great literature. I do think it is fun to explore writer’s ideas of the future.

  4. Don Royster says:

    This writer struck pure gold when Stephen Colbert urged book buyers to pre-order it from sellers other than Amazon. It was because Colbert’s publisher was in a dispute with Amazon. Geez, wish I could be so lucky.

  5. Lauren says:

    Hey Naomi: Thanks for the shout-out about Swarm. I’ve heard of this book, and might check it out, although to be honest I find enough post-apocalyptic material in the world around us these days! Have you read Stone Table, Margaret Atwood’s new short story collection? Just finished it and loved it, especially the first story about a widowed fantasy novelist in an ice-storm (fabulous interplay between fiction and “real” life). Keep up the great reviews!

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks for commenting, Lauren! I did like California, but it didn’t come close to Swarm. I have both read and reviewed Stone Mattress. Go check it out, if you want. I loved it, too! I think my favourite story was the title story, but it’s hard to say for sure. They were all good!

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