Saturday 30 July 2022


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The Last Good Man by Thomas McMullan   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Be careful what you wish for. In The Last Good Man, Thomas McMullan delves into the slippery world of morality and judgement. We meet Duncan Peck on the road from a devastated and chaotic city. He’s travelling across land, it’s dark and bleak and a wrong step will mean a suffocating drowning in the bog. 'Watch your step' could be the catch cry for this dystopian debut. A dark mass rises from the bog nearby only to be quickly surrounded by a plastic-rain-coated group. A rescue team? Unlikely, with their metal pipes and mob mentality. Yet they draw the miserable man from the bog and head back to a village. Duncan Peck stays mum. There’s a familiar voice — the man he is looking for. Finding him is about to change his life. This last good man. If there was ever such a thing. Duncan arrives in the village and catches up with his brother-in-arms, James Hale. There are recriminations, but also joy at being in each other’s company again. Their past both binds and hangs over them. Each is edgy about looking back, especially Hale who has found his place in this community. A small community of structure, rules (seemingly ‘fair’) and justice as dispensed by all — a true community reckoning as needs demand. How did they get to this order from a world of ecological and economic chaos? The Wall. There it is — visible on the horizon from a great distance, looming over the community in size and psychology. Anyone can write on the wall. If a wrong has been done it will be announced. A mention or two may not warrant any punishment, aside from a wooden piece of furniture attached to a back for a few days. Various men and women go about their daily chores with a lamp, chair or table tied to their backs. Hale tells Duncan Peck early in the piece he better sort out his ropes — make sure he has a good one to ease the troublesomeness of such an imposition. Yet, get your name on the wall in repetition and for more troubling matters, then life might not be so easy, or even possible at all. Accusations have to be acted on — it’s natural justice. Gossip and petty jealousies raise their ugly heads. This is the twitter-sphere writ large in analogue. Technology is a thing of the distant past and, while life is simple, it’s definitely not without complexities and intricate dancing if you want to keep your name from the wall and the attention of the mob that will hunt you down when you make a run for it. You can know many secrets and truths but you would be foolish to voice those in this judgemental village. Thomas McMullan brings us a dark unsettling time, with echoes of Riddley Walker (without the language breakdown) and early Ian McEwan, where human behaviour is both attractive and frightening. Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to be good, but somehow no one can quite pull it off without being bogged down in a sticky mire. Desire and survival are bedfellows Duncan Peck can not ignore if he wants to keep his head. 

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