Missouri Williams’s debut novel, The Doloriad, is a wild and wholly original contribution to the growing genre of climate fiction. With its rich prose, dark humour and unsettling concentration on the very worst aspects of humankind, it’s a novel that is likely to split opinion. In Williams’s hands, the end of the world looks like this. In an abandoned city in what was once the Czech Republic, just one family has survived an unnamed disaster. At its head is the Matriarch, who, in a bid to repopulate the planet and ‘rebuild the world in her image’, has convinced her brother to father her children, and those children to spawn more children, so that every character is someone else’s sibling, cousin, uncle, aunt and so on. Incest has produced a sickly group. There is the titular Dolores, lumpy and legless, like a ‘slip of the potter’s wheel’, her sister Agathe, prone to epileptic seizures, and their many atrophied relatives, who spend their days in the encampment toiling the toxic earth and scavenging provisions from the rubble. When they’re not doing that, they’re watching VHS tapes of Get Aquinas in Here, which sees the saint-cum-TV-star dishing out advice to people in increasingly disturbing predicaments in what must be a contender for the world’s most absurd television series.
Languid, elegant prose wrought into dense and sprawling paragraphs conveys an end-of-days inertia. In one passage, Agathe lies on the barren soil, staring at the sun: ‘now she saw the world as it was: a timeless plane on which they were pinned like insects … Stalled – they