Review of Breakdown by Katherine Amt Hanna

May 8, 2013
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

breakdownBreakdown
By Katherine Amt Hanna; Performed by Ralph Lister
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (Audible)
12 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / post-apocalypse / plague / influenza /

Publisher summary:

In a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic, former rock star Chris Price leaves New York and sets out on a long journey home to England. It’s been six years of devastation since the plague killed his wife and daughter, and Chris is determined to find out if any of his family has survived. His passage leaves him scarred, in body and mind, by exposure to humankind at its most desperate and dangerous. But the greatest ordeal awaits him beyond the urban ruins, in an idyllic country refuge where Chris meets a woman, Pauline, who is largely untouched by the world’s horrors. Together, Chris and Pauline undertake the most difficult facet of Chris’s journey: confronting grief, violence, and the man Chris has become. Together, they will discover whether the human spirit is capable of surviving and loving again in a world of unparalleled desolation.

All I knew about this book when I started it was that it was a post-apocalypse story, so I went into with no expectations except that maybe it would probably be a survival story with moments of action and horror. Instead, it was a beautifully written drama set in a time of global recovery after a massive influenza plague.

The plot itself is character-driven and more mainstream than I usually read, but I was drawn in quickly and hooked by the great writing, tormented characters, and dark setting. Katherine Amt Hanna tells the story from multiple characters’ points of view, and always from a very close psychic distance so you are dropped straight into the character’s thoughts and get to know them very well. The way the characters interact is so realistic (with all their personal triggers and subtext and unsaid things) that I wondered if the author had a psychology background. I couldn’t find anything about this when I checked her bio, so perhaps she’s just one of those very keen observers of human behavior.

I also appreciated how carefully she had thought through how a post-plague would look with the survivors cautiously rebuilding their societies and getting the most essential services like the post and transport running again. There were also some interesting thought experiments about what it would be like to be a survivor in a cut-off place with family and friends scattered in different countries but no electronic communications.

The narrator of the audiobook, Ralph Lister, reminded me a lot of Steven Pacey, who gave one of my favorite audiobook readings ever for Let the Right One In. I love his narrative voice, and even though a couple of the character’s voices bugged me (Brian’s perpetual enthusiasm felt a bit out of place at times, and Pauline’s voice didn’t always strike true for me), he had a massive task to express so many different voices (and if there was any major fault with this book, it was that there were just too many characters). The few voices were pretty minor things in an otherwise awesome reading, and his great narration was one of the reasons I was always looking forward to getting back to this audiobook.

Since this story is character-driven rather than plot-driven, it moves at a very leisurely pace that might be too slow for some people, but the writing is beautiful and there is this quiet dramatic tension through the whole novel, like something terrible could happen at any moment. I love that is a first novel and independently published. This is one of those books that proves self-published titles can be just as professionally written as traditionally published works. It was a memorable read and I recommend it if you’re looking for something gentle but dark, and a little out of the ordinary.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

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