I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Beauty by Aliya Whitely
Published: 2014 by Unsung Stories
Genres: Fantasy, Horror/Gothic
Source: the publisher
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One of the great things about being a book blogger is that you are introduced to books that you otherwise would never have heard of or considered reading. I received a review request from a small speculative fiction publisher based out of the UK called Unsung Stories for a novella called The Beauty, which is quite possibly one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read.
The Beauty is a post-apocalyptic horror story set in a world without women. A disease managed to wipe out every female human on the planet, and the surviving men know that they’re the last of their kind before their inevitable extinction. Nate is a storyteller for a community of men who have moved away from the city and are living off the land. His stories help them to remember the past and to come to terms with the future.
One day, strange mushrooms begin growing on the ground where the corpses of the women were buried. The mushrooms had strange properties that would forever change the fate of mankind. *cue ominous music* It’s hard to write the rest of this review without entering into spoiler territory, but I will do my best.
Reading The Beauty required a certain suspension of disbelief from readers. There are currently approximately 7 billion people on the planet. That means that there are approximately 3.5 billion women, give or take. There’s enough genetic diversity in the human population that I don’t think all 3.5 billion women would be susceptible to the same disease. It would be a bit more believable if there were at least a few survivors. I understand the necessity of the lack of women for the plot, but I felt like killing them all off is in and of itself a bit of a stretch.
That being said, the lack of women is what enables Whitely to create a commentary on the fluidity of gender roles and the degree to which they are determined by societal pressure versus inherent nature. When there are no women, men don’t feel the need to be as “manly”, and people seem to sort themselves out according to their own whims, which can be mutable over time. This becomes especially evident after the arrival of the Beauty, which create a social incentive for the men to take on roles that were traditionally female.
Nate uses his stories to interpret the changes in society, but many of the men in the community are resistant to change. It’s not like they had any choice in the matter. I see Nate’s stories as being ideologically driven. He’s trying to rewrite the past and the present to create a better (or at least different) world, and I get the sense that for him it’s a coping mechanism and a way of reassuring himself that maybe he isn’t as doomed as he thinks he is. It’s a way to cling to hope, no matter how thin it might be, and in order for anyone to survive, each person needs to let go of their own identities and allow themselves to be reshaped into something new and alien to their prior experiences.
The Beauty isn’t among my favorites, but it is a curious piece of work. Nate’s voice is quite strong, even if I found some of the setup a bit weak. The book’s surreal and nightmarish quality has haunted my thoughts for the past week, and I feel as if it will leave a lasting impression.