1950s Classics

The Death of Grass by John Christopher

The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics)

Five words from the blurb: virus, deadly, grass, starvation, humanity

The Death of Grass was first published in 1956,  just five years after Day of the Triffids. Both books share similar post apocalyptic themes, but for some strange reason The Death of Grass has faded into obscurity, continually overshadowed by those carnivorous triffids. I think this as a real shame as The Death of Grass is equally good; in fact I think its chillingly realistic premise makes it all the more powerful.

The Death of Grass begins with the discovery of a new virus in Asia. This virus kills all the grass that it comes in contact with, including rice and wheat. As it spreads around the world it leaves populations starving, leading to civil unrest and ultimately chaos and carnage.

The book is set in England and follows one family as they travel across the country towards the safety of their brother’s farm. The situation gradually becomes worse and the family find themselves having to fight for survival.

The amazing thing about this book is that, unlike Day of the Triffids, it hasn’t aged at all. There is nothing within the text to suggest that it was written over fifty years ago and the idea that viruses are a threat to our crops is just as relevant today.

The Government’s reaction to the disaster was particularly scary and, as with Blindness, the speed of the degeneration makes you want to move to the country and start stockpiling straight away.

The valley, which had been so green in the old days, now showed predominately black against the browner hills beyond. The stone walls wound their way up the hillsides, marking boundaries grown meaningless. Once John thought he saw sheep on the hillside, and jumped to his feet to make sure. But they were only white boulders. There could be no sheep here now. The Chung-Li virus had done its work with all-embracing thoroughness.

This is a short book that reminds you about the fragility of human society. I was inspired to read this book after a review from Another Cookie Crumbles. She compared the book to The Road, another powerful glimpse into the breakdown of society. If you enjoyed The Road or Day of the Triffids then I guarantee that you’ll love The Death of Grass.

Highly recommended.


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