The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Glukhovsky, Dmitry (translated by Natasha Randall)
Gollancz, 2009 (originally published 2007)
ISBN: 978 0575086241
I gotta say, I’m lovin’ the sheer Russian-ness of this book. You remember when I was trying to read that Solzhenitsyn book The Cancer Ward, and it kept defeating me? Well, this was something else entirely. Seriously cublings, it’s so good! Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to read it, but that’s more me than it is the book. There’s a lot of stuff going down in Mama Wolf’s world at the moment, but instead of boring you with that, I’ll suffice to say that this book has been a nice little break from reality.
Just a note here – I decided not to make this review into a Word vs. Image challenge, even though this is kind of a special circumstance. As far as I’m aware, Metro 2033 hasn’t been made into a movie, but it has been made into a game; the game came out a few years ago now, but I still remember watching my Lad play it (I don’t possess the manual dexterity or nerves of steel for FPS-type games – hacking madly with a sword from a distance is about my limit). It was certainly true to the books claustrophobic, terrifying feel; beasties leaping out at you from all angles. If you’re keen to read about the novel as a game, you can do so here.
Getting back to the ‘break from reality’ thing, I think that that’s mainly because it’s so bleak. I’d really challenge anyone with a skerrick of imagination to think that they’d had a bad day after reading about daily life in the Moscow subways after the Nuclear Apocalypse as Glukhovsky imagines it. You feel tired just thinking about it. And as much as I love pork and mushrooms, I think that I’d be weeping after a few months of only eating that – let alone years. There was something kind of Delany-ish in a weird way about the subtext of the breakdown in culture in the Metro after years of living underground – reading is a prized skill, and Polis, the centre of the metro system, is linked up to the stop for the Library called Biblioteka Lenina on the surface. The main character, Artyom, can read, which is a skill only remaining to a few of the thousands living within the metro system. Ultimately, this book is about the quest for knowledge – the only way out of the literal darkness of the world that the Moscovites now live in.
There’s even references to ‘wars’, such as they are in this subterranean world, between the knowledge classes and the martial classes, as well as between particular ideological strains. The importance of naming is seen again and again in this book; obviously, when the author relates the renaming of stations to be more “ideologically clear”, such as the renaming of the station Sportivnaya becomes Kommunisticheskaya (page 14), and more subtly – the meaning of the name Artyom means ‘unharmed’ or ‘of pure health’. Which is exactly what he is, in both respects.
Of course, there are shortcomings – I guess for a native Moscovite, the metro system is a daily thing, but for me it was quite hard to keep track of which stations led off into which tunnels. There is a handy map at the front; however, it’s pretty dense and small – making it hard to read – and half of the little icons on the stations have little or no bearing on the story. It almost seemed to me that Glukhovsky meant to go back and write another few stories in the Metro 2033 vein, but then never got around to it (or… maybe that’s just me being English-ist – just because they haven’t been translated doesn’t mean they don’t exist).
Reading this book is a little like a journey, and indeed it’s about a journey. There are long periods of walking with not that much happening; some periods of intense, hair-raising adventure; and many interesting (and in some cases strange or downright dangerous) meetings along the way. It has a bit of a feel of the ‘there and back again’ (to get all Tolkien for a moment there) about it. Would I recommend this book? Yes, if you’re a fan of dystopian or future-shock fiction, but also if you enjoy a good adventure story. That’s what it is when it boils right down to it – an adventure story with some food for thought thrown in for good measure. Oh, and I think that if you’re a librarian (or have ever worked for or with librarians) you’ll get a special kick out of the part when Artyom and his guides finally make it up to Biblioteka Lenina – honestly, some days I do feel like one of those hunchbacked, snarling beasties that the librarians have become. Ha, though luckily no one’s tried to shoot at me in the reading room… yet.