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Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff
Orpen has grown up shaped by the wild landscape of the west coast of Ireland. She has been shaped by the warmth of the love shown her by her mother and her partner Maeve. This love took the form of combat training, ready for the day when she will need to leave the isolation of Slanbeg island for the mainland of Ireland. We are all prepared by loved ones for the day when we will leave home, they impart their wisdom to us and foster our sense of self preservation in order to equip us for independent life. The self preservation instilled in Orpen by her mother and Maeve was not for college or for work, it was for survival; survival in a dystopian world, where creatures known as Skrakes fed on the living and where speed and stealth are your only tools.
The odds are overwhelming against Orpen and carrying a wheelbarrow with a crumpled Maeve in it and some chickens from home, Orpen begins the arduous journey to the mainland in search of Phoenix City where the men and their stories of violent control have reached her ears. Orpen is a strong female voice in this text as she faces a horrifying journey through cold nights, silence and survival. Why does she leave the island? What could she possibly hope to find in such a bleak canvas of Irish landscape? Sarah Davis-Goff despite the concrete feminist foundations, identifies our reliance on other people. It seems that even at the end of days, when it seems there is no optimism, we are prepared to go to enormous lengths for companionship. We don’t want to die alone. The human capacity for connection is almost unsurpassed and even though the earlier events in the novel are only gently suggested at, we can still deduce that Orpen’s mother and Maeve suffered greatly at the hands of men. The female group of Banshees, women trained in extreme survivalist combat are the supporting stronghold of this novel. I must admit that I disliked the Banshees and their lack of humanity. However, the need for Banshees grew out of a world controlled by violent men, so perhaps they needed to solidify their hard shells further, in order to succeed. Many women in our society would argue that in order to excel, a hard shell is needed in order to be accepted and respected.
Our survival and success depends on our skills and our tenacity, Orpen’s childhood is evidenced through the training knives passed on in order to ensure that she has those skills. We are similarly armed but with education and self confidence. To allow anyone to tackle those on us is to allow the metaphorical skrakes to attack us. I ordinarily intensely dislike zombie plots based on a last man standing premise. Sarah Davis-Goff brings something unique and bespoke to the literary scene. The rich landscape of Ireland is appreciated by us, even as it provides a backdrop to death and the dissipation of hope. Her use of language is intense and visual, and the frequent references to actual Irish place names lends a horrific reality to the text where we cheer Orpen and her wheelbarrow on from every page. Bleak, quiet, with the stark visuals of road signs pointing the way, we see an Ireland, which in the wrong hands could see man against man, savagely combating for survival. Sarah Davis-Goff has introduced something very powerful and novel into the Irish scene and the accessibility of her writing style means that a new market has opened up for readers.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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