Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti
The world has ended. All the adults are dead, carried off by a mysterious virus known only as the Red Fever. Nobody is immune – as children begin to go through puberty, they know it’s only a matter of time before they fall prey to it. Anna and her younger brother Astor have spent the four years since Italy was ravaged by the virus in Mulberry Farm, their mother’s house in the Sicilian countryside.
Anna navigates this post-apocalyptic world with the help of a notebook left behind by her mother, titled ‘THE IMPORTANT THINGS’. This book contains instructions for nearly every situation: having a fever, the power running out, what the Red Fever is and when it will strike. There is even a page for ‘What to do when Mama dies’, which instructs Anna to seal the room containing her mother’s corpse for a hundred days: it’s only then that the body will have reached a state of decomposition at which it’s light enough to drag outside.
When Astor is abducted by a gang of wild blue children, Anna must leave the safety of Mulberry Farm to rescue him. Her journey though the ravaged world is a coming of age. Like any 13-year-old girl, Anna is full of contradiction – she is bravest when she is terrified. Her love is cool and detached. She is both fascinated and totally exasperated by her world. She is headstrong, sensible and has an eerie capability to just get things done, regardless of how gruesome or disturbing they may be. As well as conjuring up this excellent characterisation, Ammaniti’s prose has a strange, deadpan tenderness that I loved. There is always a sense of hope in the hopelessness. This is a sickeningly wonderful novel, and a perfect example of literary dystopian fiction.
Ellen Cregen works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.