January 9, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Bar None" by Tim Lebbon

Title: Bar None
Author: Tim Lebbon
Published: Night Shade Books (2009)
Pages: 193
Genre: Horror; Fantasy
ISBN 978-1-59780-097-6

Last year, I heard a term describing a certain form of fiction--bizarro. I'm not sure if Tim Lebbon's Bar None qualifies as bizarro, but I feel comfortable in calling it bizarre.

It's a relatively brief story, weighing in at less than two hundred pages, but the story comes off as full, as complete. Having said that, there is a feeling of being left on the side of the road when the tale is finished. I became invested in the characters of the novel to a point, that when the ending arrived, I wanted more in spite of recognizing that the book ended pretty much where it needed to.

The end of the world occurred six months prior to where the story begins. A plague swept the world, and despite Britain's efforts to ward off the threat from their island, the United Kingdom shared the same fate as the rest of the planet. Five people survive, presumably immune to whatever virus is responsible, and have found refuge in a mansion on the outskirts of London. They have shelter, safety, food, and plenty of beer.

Beer plays a rather prominent role in this story, as it seems to propel and motivate the survivors. The horror and the emptiness that surrounds them is overwhelming, and they find a soothing dullness to the senses after a couple of pints each evening. In fact, each chapter is named after a fictional brand of beer. The narrator reminisces about his late wife and their courtship and marriage ... and their love of beer in nearly every chapter. So when supplies start to run low for them, they can either face facts or dull the pain with a few more pints before the end truly comes.

Their wakeup call comes in the form a blond-haired stranger who arrives on a motorcycle. Initially worried he may be a threat, the small group are quickly placated by his calm and curious demeanor. And when he tells each of them that there is a place where they can go, where they'll be safe, "the last bar on Earth," the group unanimously opt to heed the man's words and make the trip across the countryside to find Bar None.

And that's when things really get weird. And I like weird. But I like it best when it has some context. Now, I'm a bit of a simpleton in some regards, so some of the imagery employed in the storytelling could have whizzed right over my head without my knowing. But there are some things the characters witness in the story that go unexplained entirely, at least as near as I recall. It's not a requirement for everything to be tied up with a neat little bow with an accompanying pamphlet for the more ignorant readers, but a couple of things still had me scratching my head when I'd finished reading the book. The biggest question would concern the nature of the entities flying over the city: What the heck were those things?

If you read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and found it too depressing in tone, or read Stephen King's The Stand and found it too daunting in length, Tim Lebbon's story about a post apocalyptic world may be your cup of tea. Or should I say, mug of ale.

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