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In Night of the Long Goodbyes, Erik Martiny takes us into a dystopian near-future. Set in the mid-21st century, Britain is in the grip of hyperpopulist post-Brexit politics. With the electorate sleepwalking into what turns out to be the final general election, a coalition of right-wing parties have taken power and are using it to find what they believe to be the quintessential essence of Britishness, each party looking further and further back in history to find its own acceptable version of gene purity. The Night of the Long Goodbyes, otherwise known as The Great Purge, refers to the terrifying mass deportation of anyone not deemed to be British enough. As if this isn’t awful enough, add in catastrophic climate change and a pandemic that suddenly sweeps through the population and renders people needing biotech in order to feel anything and … well, you get where this is going.
And then comes the Blue, a snow-like substance that simply starts falling one day and covers everything. It doesn’t melt and, for a while, provides some much-needed relief to the population, but then it hardens and contorts, and people are stuck in despair once again.
At this point in the novel our narrator, Kvist, decides to take a journey. He is obsessed by the Blue and so he sets out to tour Britain in the hope of finding out what it is and where it came from, planning to write the definitive guide to it. His journey is also one of self-discovery, as Kvist is desperately trying to piece together his own fragmented psyche and find some peace in the face of both his mental and physical decline.
At the start of the book there is a dedication, which reads: “In memory of Angela Carter”, and it’s when Kvist starts his journey that things do take a distinctly Carter-esque turn (it reminded me of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman). As he tours the country, furiously writing and recording everything, he meets a bizarre cast of characters and gets embroiled in an increasingly absurd set of adventures, leading to an ultimately tragic finale.
Night of the Long Goodbyes is a humorous novel, albeit a macabre humour in places. One of the most memorable encounters is with Bora Johnson, the shape-shifting Lord Mayor of Brexishire who has an aerated mop of blonde hair. Things happen with Bora that I won’t repeat here, but just be prepared to both chuckle and squirm in horror while reading it.
We never get an explanation of what the Blue really is because ultimately, of course, it can be read as a metaphor for many different things and while our narrator has his own theories, it’s up to the reader to decide what it means to them. And as absurd as it all is – I’m fairly hopeful that we won’t wake up in a few years to see the world covered in blue snow – there is much in Martiny’s novel that resonates, making it a compelling, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying read.
Night of the Long Goodbyes is published by River Boat Books.