In a world plagued by wars over resources, soldier-turned-demagogue Marshal Bran demands compulsory euthanasia for those unable to work. While his brutality ensures his people’s survival, eventually it leads to his exile to a desert island. There, like a post-apocalyptic Robinson Crusoe, he spends 10 years cutting firewood and digging peat. Only when a former adversary washes up does he decide to return home, risking execution.
First published in South Africa, Alastair Bruce’s exceptional first novel has echoes of JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, against which it more than holds its own. Wall of Days is both a compelling dystopian fantasy and a baffling mystery story. But, above all, it’s a subtle exploration of the competing demands of truth and reconciliation, as Bran’s need to justify his legacy comes into contact with his countrymen’s desire to forget and start afresh. With Hosni Mubarak and Ratko Mladic in the dock, it seems particularly timely.
Wall of Days, by Alastair Bruce, Clerkenwell Press, RRP£11.99, 240 pages