“Where can we go? the father wondered. We are alone in space. There is nowhere to go.”

Lost Girl, Adam Nevill’s powerful new novel, seems at once a departure from his normal Horror trajectory, but in many ways it’s also a tour de force of staying to his course.

At the novel’s heart is the end of the world – the end of the world for a young couple as their daughter is snatched while playing in their Devon garden, and the end of the world as setting in time. It’s 2053, and the action takes place after our future climate has broken apart at the seams, reeling from the bad days when “the hot got hotter, the wet got wetter.” Fires, super-storms, mass refugee movements, disease, starvation and chaos, murder and death are the backdrop. It is a “climate holocaust” and the England of Lost Girl – only a few decades down the road – is only barely holding up.

In the midst of this grimly convincing impending apocalypse, the lone father – helped only by rogue detectives on the last fringes of a functioning police force – hunts the people who took his daughter. Armed, violent and unspooling in his mind, the novel follows him through dilapidated and decaying landscapes as he searches an England suffocating at the end of time.

The novel bridges a gap to our own time expertly, so we recognise the last of the pubs, the shops, the process and direction of ‘a-to-b’ on roads we know – particularly here in the South West, where the novel is primarily set. Even with cures for major diseases, future cars and equipment, and the overarching great dystopian twisting of world events, what is highly achieved is the way that the world of Lost Girl remains recognisably our world – a world of beleaguered public services, pints of ale and cereal bars, fading English Riviera guesthouses that keep on keeping on, and the forlorn hopes of hearth and home in the cul-de-sac. This 2053 world is on the brink of extinction, but it is our world really, our world now.

Of course, crime is out of hand, and the father soon learns that his daughter’s abduction may be linked to the activities of an extremely dangerous and deranged criminal gang – the Kings. As he follows this lead, he seems at times like a ‘Normal Dad’, psychologically adrift in a crime thriller narrative, then at others a kind of unhinged executioner Jack Reacher. Most poignantly in his loss, as the story progresses he becomes the kind of  fugitive Science Fiction traveller you find in Cormac McCarthy’s gold standard masterpiece, The Road.

Lost Girl steps into the ravenous darkness that is Nevill’s speciality – tenebrous hinterlands of superstition and folk horror and madness, with all the signs, symbols and night terrors that so characterise his work, particularly in the superb House of Small Shadows. In the eerie setting of peeling Devon pubs and motorways to nowhere, there’s also the ghost of JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, and those weird and hallucinatory early passages in which the young Jim wanders the disintegrating Shanghai, where “time has stopped” and the familiar seems supernaturally displaced.

Like his last novel, the brutal and frankly super-horrifying No One Gets Out Alive, the subject matter is at times difficult and disturbing, but salving the pain and despair experienced by the central character is a strong undercurrent of redemption and hope amidst the horror. The external madness and global destruction comes to act as a powerful metaphor for the outsized and enormous pain and heartbreak inside the ribs of the father’s small family. Nevill feeds this out from a surreal landscape – so it is hard for character and reader alike to know where reality and madness cross over. Interior and exterior borderlands are somehow one and the same, and the unthinkable torment inside our lead character is terraforming outwards, forcing the seas to dry and the sun to burn.

The end of the novel is breathless and furious and works as an extended chase and action sequence, with this reader turning the pages long into the early morning as the father goes running after the resolution, and some sense of escape and light. It’s thrilling stuff. Nevill is often compared to Stephen King, and there is a definite kinship with the pedal to the metal, race against time, last stand mentality of King’s denouements in these final brilliant chapters of Lost Girl.

“In this world we are smudges, brief traces, small vanishing vapours. And when our smoke vanishes … we will see better in the darkness of afterdeath,” says one of the unforgettable characters the father meets on his journey. Lost Girl is a novel that is tough and will hit hard, particularly for those, as the father observes, “born partially stricken by so many solvents of the heart.” We are all afraid of the end of the world, one way or another, the novel suggests to me, whichever world it is we love the most and seek to lose the least.

Lost Girl seems to be one of Nevill’s most deeply personal novels, and I think it is his best.


 

adam_nevillLost Girl by Adam Nevill is out now from Pan Macmillan, priced £7.99
Read our interview with Adam Nevill here