The End of the World Running Club | Adrian J. Walker | 2014 (this edn 2016) | Del Rey |455p | Review copy | Buy the book
Edgar Hill hates to run and, it’s fair to say, he doesn’t have much time for runners either. His outlook on life is pessimistic, reluctantly aware that he is not the husband and father he should and could have been. He and his wife Beth have two small children, Alice and Arthur, but Edgar early on learned to use the excuse that he was out at work all day so he should be the one to get the full night’s sleep when the children cried and screamed for attention. But when the world ends, Edgar has plenty of time to think and he comes to the conclusion that he owes Beth an unpayable debt.
Rumours of what was probably to come had been around for months but nobody really listened. Even the night before, Edgar’s drunken stupour meant that he slept though most of the final warnings. But when the sirens went off early the next morning, it all came back to him along with the self-awareness that yet again he had let his family down. Probably fatally this time. But, against all odds, they do all survive only for Edgar to be accidentally separated from Beth, Alice and Arthur. They are now in Cornwall while he is in Edinburgh and, if he wants to reach them, he has just a short time to do it in. With travel next to impossible, there is only one thing Edgar and his few companions can do. They begin to run.
The End of the World Running Club is an engrossing read, told to us by Edgar, who has much to do if he is to win us over. Surprisingly, though, I liked Edgar more than I thought I would. He has plenty of failings but who doesn’t? And when he has to act he does. He hates it, it’s painful, he’s not that good at it, but he does it because he knows that it’s his family that matters – even if he realises deep down that they may well be better off without him.
This is a character-driven thriller in many ways. The focus is very much on Edgar and the way that he is changed by the nightmare scenario that he must endure. He thinks a great deal, his dreams are disturbed, he’s constantly injured, and he worries continually. But he’s not alone and there are other people we meet along the way who stick in the mind. I found Edgar’s companions less memorable, actually, than some of the other people who make a cameo appearance, notably Lord Bartenmouth, Beth and Alice.
Above all else, The End of the World Running Club is a pageturning thriller. The running club element only kicks in about half way through. Before then the emphasis is on the apocalypse and trying to survive it but throughout the book’s journey across a desolate Scotland and England there are almighty challenges for Edgar and the others to overcome. It’s true to say that an apocalypse doesn’t bring out the best in many people. Horror runs through this novel and Adrian J. Walker spares us none of it.
There are elements in the novel that I had a great deal of a job believing. I’m pretty sure that if I saw an end of the world warning flashing across my TV set while I lay in front of it drunk, I’d sober up pretty quickly. And there are other moments like that. But apocalyptic thrillers by their nature are at times difficult to believe – possibly because we hope for the best. Nevertheless, Edgar’s heroic efforts are compelling to read while the traumas that face him on the journey are thrilling, and they follow one after the another. This is a very well-written novel, its destroyed British cities and landscapes vividly described, and it has such a grip. It won’t let go until the rather surprising end.
The End of the World Running Club was originally self-published in 2014 but has now been picked up Del Rey. This isn’t a surprised, nor is it a surprise that it’s been featured by the BBC Radio 2 Book Club this summer. If you enjoy apocalyptic thrillers as much as I do then you’ll certainly enjoy this but I also think that there’s a fair chance you’ll love it even if you’ve never picked up such a book before.