Manon Steffan Ros: Llyfr Glas Nebo (Blue Book of Nebo)
The End came in 2018. The End seems to have been a nuclear war. We know the United States was bombed, that, a couple of days later, the electricity went off and never came back on and that most people near where Rowenna, Dylan and Mona live, went away and never returned. They see animals mutated and Rowenna comments Bloody Wylfa. Dylan,aged fourteen at this point, does not know what she means but it is is the nearest nuclear power station. Rowenna and Dylan hear a loud bang and then a cloud appears, bringing with it dead slugs. Rowenna and Dylan are very sick but survive. Others are not so lucky.
The thirty-six year old Rowenna, her son Dylan and her daughter, Mona, a very young child, live in a remote part of Wales. When the End occurred, Rowenna smartly hired a transit van and went on a shopping spree at the local supermarket, hardware store and convenience store. As this was eight years ago we must assume that most of this has now run out. They survive by trapping animals, growing vegetables and other crops and breaking into the neighbouring empty houses and stealing what they can find but not into the house of their immediate neighbours, which Rowenna will not allow.
They frequently find books and Dylan has been sort of home-schooled by his mother but now is developing his own reading. He is particularly interested in the New Testament which he found in an abandoned house but also gets into Welsh legends. Rowenna speaks Welsh but Dylan does not though he learns some.
They have decided to write about what is going on, called, as you guessed, The Blue Book of Nebo, based, according to Rowenna on the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Red Book of Hergest. (Nebo is the village where they live.) Dylan will write about current events, while Rowenna about the End, which Dylan barely remembers as he was six at the time.
One other book Dylan peruses is a biology text book and he makes a discovery, namely for a woman to have a child she needs a man’s sperm. So how come Rowenna, has produced Mona, despite the fact she has had no contact with a man since the End, eight years ago? This and Dylan’s parentage are, of course explained later. However, Rowenna is not prepared to tell her son. He will never pluck up the courage to ask about his father again. He will never be brave enough to ask where Mona came from. I have an arsenal of coldness within me, ready for the questions I will never answer.
Much of the book is how Rowenna and Dylan survive. They both change, becoming more resilient and make do in a world without electricity, mobile phones, medical facilities and so on. They see no-one and are not sure whether everyone is dead (some are, as they find bodies in the houses they steal from). They also seem generally satisfied. Rowenna is happy at how her son has become a man, resourceful, competent and able to do whatever is necessary, though she is worried that he might leave to see if there is life elsewhere. They do have some problems, of course, but are able to survive. Indeed, Rowenna makes comparisons with life before the End and the current life generally appears to be more favourable.
This could have been a pandemic novel but a nuclear war – if that is what has happened; it is never entirely clear – gives more or less the same effect, not least because Rowenna and Dylan both do get ill. Manon Steffan Ros tells her story well, with lots of interesting references to things Welsh and she has clearly done her research into how to a survive after an apocalypse. Unlike many post-apocalyptic novels, mainly written by men, there is only limited violence so we have no roving gangs of thugs or the like, just a gentle, well-told story about how two ordinary Welsh people survive life after the End.
First published in 2018 by Y Lolfa
First English translation in 2021 by Deep Vellum
Translated by the author