Sunday, January 14, 2018

When The English Fall

When the English Fall / David Williams 
Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, c2017.
242 p.

This is a post-disaster novel with a difference; it is told from the point of view of an Amish family, who are already living without the modern conveniences that are propping up civilization -- and which lead to chaos when they fail.

Jacob narrates this story, in a series of diary entries. This structure allows for time to reflect and ponder, with room for philosophy and ideas to grow naturally. The author is a minister so there are also some theological discussions, but as the characters are Amish this also feels natural and believable.  

Jacob's daughter Sadie has been having seizures and seeing strange visions; this is Jacob and Hannah's biggest concern, until the day in which her visions of the English falling comes true. In a huge solar storm, the electrical grid around the world is knocked out. Planes fall from the sky; transportation fails, and so therefore does the food supply. Outside of this solid Amish community in Pennsylvania, denizens of the cities are getting desperate and hungry. Chaos begins to take hold, with people walking out of the cities trying to find a place to live and grow food. Armed gangs begin to roam, and danger grows.

But Jacob's community is not totally isolated. He has a relationship with a local man named Mike, who was the distributor of his handmade furniture, and who comes to Jacob for help once the troubles start. In this relationship with people outside of their faith community, the family's adherence to the principles of caring and empathy really shine. 

There are some terrible events in the story, but it never becomes graphic and horrible for the sake of it. And something else that is very different about this apocalyptic story which I really appreciated was the lack of misogyny. In this small community, people may have different roles, but Jacob repeatedly says how much he loves and respects his wife, and admires her for her character. The women talking together make many decisions for the community, and are treated as equal participants in their lives. This is quite refreshing in this genre. 

The writing is calm and thoughtful, and the story feels plausible because of the lack of hyperbole. There are a few loose ends and perhaps I'd have liked a little more detail. However, I read this very quickly but have been thinking about it ever since. Really interesting read. 

I picked this up from my library, but was inspired to do so through reading this essay written by the author, found via twitter, on finding out that his book was suggested as an alternative for Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 in a Florida school. It's a strong and moving essay about the value of reading to challenge us in our preconceptions. Well worth a look. 


  1. Melwyk, this novel sounds different and quite interesting. I like that the principles of caring and empathy and respect are important to Jacob's family and community. Excellent, thoughtful review, as usual.

    1. It was really different -- but just this week I've seen two other titles where the world 'ends' with a huge electrical storm. A trend perhaps?


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