Literary Criticism and Significance

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 447

Far North is Marcel Theroux’s fourth novel. It has been mostly well received both commercially and critically. Far North was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clark Award, one of the most prestigious awards given for science fiction; it was also a finalist for the National Book Award, one of the most prestigious awards given for literature. Critics tend to praise Theroux for his absorbing plot and for Makepeace’s terse voice. Far North is, however, often criticized for its resolution.

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Far North stands out among Theroux’s fiction for its post-apocalyptic setting. Although Theroux has discussed themes of death and loss in earlier novels like A Blow to the Heart and the critically acclaimed The Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paperchase, his previous novels are more properly considered literature than post-apocalyptic or speculative fiction. Still, Makepeace’s adventure to find civilization has earned Theroux comparisons to some of the most acclaimed post-apocalyptic novels of the 21st century, including Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Road and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

On the other hand, critics tended to point out that Far North fell short of McCarthy’s achievements. Writing for Telegraph, Tim Martin argues that the second half of Far North “feels rushed and out of step with the reflective tone of the rest of the book.” Jeff VanderMeer, writing for The New York Times, points out that parts of the ending—particularly Eben Callard’s reappearance—feel contrived. He criticizes the “sentimental, far-fetched rebirth motif.” Although critics tended to praise Theroux for his creation of Makepeace, his other characters mostly serve to move her through the plot.

However unusual its setting may be, Theroux’s discussion of climate in Far North is preceded by his television career with Channel 4, a British public-service television station. Theroux contributed to The End of the World as We Know It and War on Terra, two television series that examined climate change. Although Makepeace spends little time considering climate change and its contributions to the end of civilization in Far North, it is clear that the changing climate had a significant role to play in the end of the world. Writing for The Guardian, M. John Harrison argues that this lack of detail offered by Theroux cost his setting “presence.”

With Far North, Theroux has created an exciting post-apocalyptic narrative. Although readers will be tempted to explore the environmental processes that lead to the end of the world, both Theroux and Makepeace seem primarily concerned with how humanity responds to the physical world. While critics have found a great deal to praise in Far North, few offer unconditional praise.

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