First published back in April of 2011, ‘Breakdown’ formed US author Katherine Amt Hanna’s debut novel.

DLS Review:
It’s been six years since the deadly influenza plague, combined with a crippling cyber-virus attack, brought humanity to its knees.  Since the highly contagious pandemic first broke out across the globe, humanity has been pushed to the very brink of extinction.  Only small pockets of human life now remain.  Those left alive, live in constant fear of a further outbreak.

When the flu virus first hit, former rock star Chris Price was living in New York after the split up of the group for which he played guitar in, and more dramatically, the collapse of the friendship with his lifelong friend and fellow musician – Brian.  The last he saw of his friends and family, they were living on the other side of the world, in the once picturesque city of Bath in the south of England.  But in the years that followed, Chris had left them all behind – severing almost all contact with his past.

But following the death of his wife, Sophie, and his young daughter, Rosie, Chris Price decides that he needs to somehow make the long journey back to his hometown in England and reconnect with his friends and family.  But, after boarding a ship destined for London, Chris finds himself arriving at a city ravaged by the destructive collapse of society.  Violence and murder now rule the streets.  And Chris has to learn the hard way of life in order to survive.

And survive he does.  But not without its cost.  Now toughened by the savagery of this harsh new world, Chris Price travels on to Portsmouth where he is put on forced work detail within one of the governmentally run Distribution Center’s.  Whilst locked up in the facility, Price strikes up a friendship with fellow inmate Michael Cooper.  When Price is released from the complex, Cooper arranges a place for Price to stay for a while, to recover from the sever bronchitis that he is suffering from.

So, with a letter from Michael Cooper in hand, Chris Price sets to the road again, this time heading to the relatively untouched Breton Farm, which will hopefully bring him closer to his final goal of locating his friends and family in Bath.  However, at Breton Farm, Chris Price finds a home within Cooper’s close friends and family.  Furthermore, whilst Price slowly recovers, a friendship slowly blossoms between himself and Cooper’s ex-lover Pauline Anderson.

But Chris Price’s mental scars run deep.  And as the once rock star slowly heals, his inner-wounds continue to pain him.  But time is a great healer.  And with Pauline providing emotional support for him, Price begins to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  A light that will inevitably lead him to reconnecting once again with his family.

Having also moved to a farm located in Hurleigh, nearby to their original home of Bath, Chris Price’s family have set up a new almost self-sufficient life, surrounded by close friends and family.  Another small community that is attempting to quietly exist, away from the spiralling decay of the world.  A close-knit community that had carried on in the assumption that Chris Price had died when the ‘New Plague’ killed off the majority of humankind.

And all of a sudden, Chris Price is back with them, and is being torn between family and true love...

DLS Synopsis:
Hanna’s debut novel is far from what you would expect from a post-apocalyptic set novel.  The collapse of mankind has already been played out by the time the tale begins, and apart from a brief prologue set in January of the year 2000, the vast majority of the tale is either set at the Breton Farm or Hurleigh House between 2005 and 2006.  However, where the novel differs from your usual post-apocalyptic tale is that the author steered clear of the dominating intricacies of a bleak dystopian premise, and has instead put a hugely predominant emphasis on the emotional turmoil (and the subsequent recovery) suffered by the principal character Chris Price.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is in no way a particularly bad idea in itself.  Indeed, in the wake of such emotionally geared post-apocalyptic novels such as Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (2006), the idea of putting so much emphasis on the characters’ emotional states certainly holds a great amount of potential.  So where did the novel go wrong?

Well, to be blunt, the tale is painfully boring.  Nothing happens.  Nothing.  For the length of the tale, the reader is subjected to a seemingly endless stream of tiresome dialogue, usually revolving around out lead character and his never-ending emotional woes.  If the storyline’s not wallowing in the standoffish nature of the tired ex-rock star, then it’s floundering around with the trivialities of day-to-day life within a self-sufficient community in a ‘cosy catastrophe’ setting ala Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’ (1976).

This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the characterisation is unforgivably weak for the vast majority of the characters brought into the tale.  Indeed, Hanna incorporates a vast swathe of secondary characters, rather boringly each either a family member or already established close friend, and on each occasion, fails to flesh any of them out to even the most basic of levels.

What seems clear during the tale is that Hanna had a pre-planned idea behind the fabrication of the tale, and then only ever worked on this one singular idea, without exploring any other layers or depths.  The use of pretty basic symbolism, particularly with regards to the overall backdrop of a breakdown in society mirroring Chris Price’s own personal (and highly emotional) breakdown, form the predominant crux to the tale.  And it’s here that there are clear and distinct stages that Hanna set for the storyline, with the construction coming across as too reserved and without any imaginative exploration.

If you can stomach the veritable mountain of bromance, nauseating tear-shedding, and soppy-chick-lit-esque romance that makes up the main backbone of the storyline, then the tale does eventually lead to an ending that does incorporate some reasonable characterisation (at loooong last).  But then Hanna goes and overdoes the whole emotional finale, wallowing in a pit of what is undoubtedly meant to be a tear-jerking finale – but simply ends up being just another horrendously thick wedge of sigh-inducing boredom.

Without wishing to be too hard on the novel (after all it is the author’s first offering), it must be said that reading the tale felt like one long endurance test.  It was unbelievably difficult to pick back up and then to return to and ultimately struggled to keep my attention throughout it’s (seemingly never-ending) length.

It’s ‘Survivors’ (1976) without the storyline.  It’s ‘The Death Of Grass’ (1956) without the nail-biting journey.  And it’s ‘The Road’ (2006) without the breath-taking impact.

The novel runs for a total of 406 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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