The eponymous characters of Carus & Mitch, from Oxford-based writer Tim Major, are two sisters living alone in a house somewhere in Northern Britain, having fled from an apocalyptic disaster. Each day is spent following a routine laid out by their deceased mother: collect the eggs from the chickens, clean the house, and check that the barricades across the doors and windows are still proof against some vague and monstrous threat outside. They trade eggs and chickens for canned goods with a mysterious outsider called Jom; by means of a hatch in the gate they make the exchanges without ever seeing him. The lives of the two girls are entirely contained within the barricaded house.
The story is told in the first person from the point of view of the elder of the girls, Carus, and the author displays considerable skill in capturing the tone of a teenage girl. But this is a darker and more ambiguous story than most YA-fiction.
Carus is fifteen and can vaguely remember details from her previous life; Mitch is younger and only knows about such things as electricity, post offices, and the ocean from the stories Carus tells her at bedtime. The relationship between the two sisters is beautifully evoked: not just their affection but the protectiveness Carus feels towards Mitch and the suffocation Mitch feels as a result. It’s this dynamic that drives the plot. Mitch wants to know more of the outside world than just Carus’s stories. She begins to questions the rules, leading Carus to dread what will happen if the routines of their lives crumble.
At first, everything about Carus & Mitch seems small-scale – the novella length, the small cast of characters, the claustrophobic setting. But as the story unfolds the reader realises that there’s something TARDIS-like going on; it’s bigger on the inside than it might first appear. It becomes clear that not everything the reader is initially told about the lives of the two girls (and of the world outside their barricades) is as simple as it seems. This is a book that makes the reader do some work, deciphering the clues, reading between the lines, paying attention to what isn’t said as much as what is. As such, it would be giving away too much to discuss the plot in any further detail. Suffice to say, its twists and turns do not disappoint. The ending is satisfying but does not wrap everything up with a neat bow; it allows some of the ambiguity and unanswered questions to linger.
Carus & Mitch has similarities to many previous horror classics: Matheson’s I Am Legend; The Sundial by Shirley Jackson; Cortozar’s short story ‘House Taken Over’. But Tim Major has succeeded in created something wholly original from his influences, an intimate, original, and character-driven take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Looked at in one light, Carus & Mitch is a plot-driven page-turner; in another it is a compelling puzzle to be pondered over. As such, it’s a book which will no doubt find a loyal readership fascinated by its intricacies.
Publisher: Omnium Gatherum
Release Date: 18 February 2015
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Carus & Mitch by Tim Major (UK)
Carus & Mitch by Tim Major (US)