Before This Is Over by Amanda Hickie

The Blurb On The Back:

A normal family.  A quiet, leafy street.  A terrifying epidemic.

It’s been coming for a while: a lethal illness.  With sons of five and fourteen to look out for Hannah has been stockpiling supplies, despite everyone telling her that it’s unnecessary.

Then it arrives.

At first there are a few unconfirmed cases.  Then a death.  Now the whole city is quarantined.  But Hannah’s family is not yet safe behind their locked front door …

Basics soon become luxuries, and neighbours become hazards.  There are power cuts, food shortages and an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia.  How will the family cope?

How would you cope?

How far would you go to protect your children? 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s the very near future.  The world is in the grip of the Manba virus, an epidemic that’s moved from Thailand across the Far East and Europe.  Hannah and her family (husband Sean, fourteen-year-old son Zac and five-year-old son, Oscar) live in Sydney.  So far Manba hasn’t appeared there but Hannah knows that it’s only a matter of time, which is why she’s been stockpiling food, minimising contact with others and trying to keep her children away from school even though her friends assure her that the quarantine instigated by the Australian government means everything will be fine.  But with Zac gone on a school trip to Canberra and Sean having to keep working it’s impossible to keep her family safe and when Manba does arrive, Hannah must do whatever it takes as the city descends into chaos and Manba begins to claim its victims …

Amanda Hickie’s debut literary novels mixes pandemic apocalypse with domestic drama to solid effect, creating a suffocating sense of claustrophobia and fear as Hannah is forced into impossible decisions, creating emotional conflict with the people she’s trying to protect at the same time as she searches desperately for information and hope from the outside world.

Hannah is a well-drawn character, a cancer survivor who has already been forced to confront her own mortality and fears for what death will do to her family I could completely understand how that’s driven her reaction to the Manba outbreak – particularly her obsessive checking of the internet.  I also thought that Hickie does well at showing the gradual tensions that arise between Hannah and her family the longer they are cooped up together and I particularly enjoyed how the choices Hannah makes ramps up that tension (including whether to take in a neighbour’s young child or feed another elderly neighbour).

The downside to the set-up is that it moves slowly, which might put some people off – although there are some action-filled set-pieces (a food convoy delivery that descends into a riot is particularly effective).  Hickie keeps the fictional Manba disease just vague enough for it to be really frightening, especially with the generic early symptoms (nausea, fever and diarrhoea), which makes it difficult to tell whether you’ve got it or not.

I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction generally and I think this is a strong addition to the genre and I will definitely check out Hickie’s next book.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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