Imagine life seven years after a virus (an electronic one, the Crash) has taken down all electronic services world-wide. So, no computers, no devices, no plane towers, no planes, power or petrol. The only access to food is to grow your own; the only way to get around is by foot, bicycle, boat, or horse. That’s the premise of Tina Shaw’s latest novel, Ephemera.
The main protagonist is Ruth; an ex-Ephemera librarian, a quiet unassuming woman who falls for all the wrong men, and yes, often in the wrong places.
Her sister Juliana by contrast, is a cop; she is gregarious and popular and adored by Lance Hinkley, a co-worker. The sisters, stuck in their parents’ old home in Auckland, have a problem more dire than the Crash to deal with – Juliana’s tuberculosis. She needs a ‘miracle’ drug, but how to find any in this post-Crash world? Ruth learns of rich ex-developer Nelson, currently dealing in commercial drugs. Big problem. Nelson lives at Huka Lodge, five hours by car in the old days. Ruth has a bike. She has barely left the outskirts of the city when bandits pounce.
Like any good quest, there is a hero, and one fortunately appears, in the form of handsome Lance Hinckley on a horse, and rescues Ruth. He is also on a mission, unnamed. Then, a suspicious ugly fellow, called Adebowale Ackers shows up, and becomes essential to this small gang, as he has a boat. For all that it’s tacked together, with a chimney stack made from empty cat-food tins, it goes. With smoke steaming from its funnel it chugs up the mighty Waikato River. They pull in at little settlements along the way, finding groups barely eking a living, and Māori, the original gardeners, feeding their communities well. And so the group travel towards the Huka Falls. Can Adebowale be trusted? Can anyone?
They endure serious hardships, but the story is not all dystopian doom and despair, as Shaw laces her writing with humour. It is no easy task to keep your audience engaged with your writing, but Shaw has kept up a terrific pace throughout, urging the pages to be turned. She has created characters with hidden depths, which slowly surface as the quest continues, often overturning our initial perceptions. Shocking us. But that is the business of good writing surely, to get under the readers’ skin?
We suffer with Ruth as she faces frightening situations. We will her to succeed in this quest. Does she find Nelson? Does good win over bad? I suggest that you read Ephemera and find out.
This is a New Zealand book, certainly, but its themes and story are universal. Tina Shaw has published many books of fiction for adults, young adults and children. Alongside her writing she works as a manuscript assessor.
Ephemera, by Tina Shaw, published in 2020 by Cloud Ink Press, New Zealand.