2015 Memoirs Non Fiction

The Utopia Experiment by Dylan Evans

The Utopia Experiment Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: collapse, civilization, Scottish, community, depressed

I love reading books about the collapse of civilisation* (strange aren’t I?!) and frequently wonder whether I should move to the country and become self-sufficient in preparation for the breakdown of society. So, when I came across this book about a man who decided to practise post-apocalyptic life, I snapped it up.

Dylan Evans thought that society had a high probability of collapse so decided to set up a community in a remote Scottish valley. He quit his job, advertised for volunteers on-line, and began building things from scratch, in order to practise the skills required to survive. This book explains the reasonings behind his decisions and how his thoughts darkened as the experiment progressed. His eventual decline into mental illness was skilfully written and enabled the reader to understand how the gradual encroachment of dark thoughts can lead to mental collapse.

The book was engaging throughout. It was fast-paced and entertaining, but also able to handle serious issues with sensitivity. I admired the honesty of the writing and the way it gave an accurate account of how difficult life without simple things can be:

It’s the little things like toilet paper and toothpaste and soap, things that you hardly notice when you go about your daily life in rich countries, that you don’t think about when you merly imagine what life might be like after the collapse of civilization. It’s only when you start acting it out  – when you start trying to live as if civilization has already collapsed – that these little details intrude. And these details turn out to matter much more than you might think.

I also loved the way it mentioned many other books and films that deal with post-apocalyptic/wilderness living as I am always keen to learn more basic survival skills (as you can see from the photo of me below!) – you’ll probably see a few of these titles reviewed on this blog in the near future.

Learning to make fire!

Overall, this was an entertaining read that has only fuelled my desire to learn more about life without modern luxuries.



*Blindness by José SaramagoThe Death of Grass by John Christopher and The Road by Cormac McCarthy are my favourites

What are your favourite books on post-apocalyptic/wilderness living?

2012 Non Fiction

Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben

Into the Abyss

Five words from the blurb: plane, crash, remote, survivors, criminal

In 1984 a small commuter plane crashed into a remote Canadian forest. This book explains the reasons for the tragedy and shows how the survivors reacted after the event. The author, Carol Shaben, is the daughter of one of the passengers and has an emotional connection to the tragedy that is evident throughout.

The book was beautifully written with the tension building slowly:

Lightning split the clouds and the sky hummed hot and electric around him. Seconds later the air cracked with a deafening boom of thunder. Erik felt his insides churn, and a clammy wetness glossed his palms where they gripped the yoke.

Events were described with a sensitivity that enabled to me read about what happened without becoming disturbed. It was also very well structured and information about everyone involved was woven cleverly into the action.

Unfortunately (and I feel bad saying this about a true event) the story wasn’t interesting enough for me to be able to recommend it to others. The survivors were rescued quite quickly so they didn’t have time to demonstrate any real survival skills or to form complex relations with each other. I lost interest in the book about half way through (when they were rescued) and wish I’d abandoned it at this point as the details of their lives after the crash failed to engage me.

The blurb of the book emphasized the presence of a criminal on the plane and I expected him to play a far greater role. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that he was a fairly normal man and the adrenalin filled comments on the cover were very much exaggerated.

I also think that this book would have had a greater impact if it had been written 25 years ago. The dangerous practices of the commuter plane industry are no longer relevant and the navigation problems have been solved by our new technology. It was a mildly interesting glimpse into the problems of the past, but I often felt that she was preaching to the converted.

It is all such a shame because Carol Shaben is clearly a skilled writer. I hope that she finds a more complex subject to write about for her next book and if she does I’ll be at the front of the queue to try it.