All The Little Children starts right in with the action. Marlene and sister-in-law Joni are out for a camping trip with their kids and one of the children’s classmates. They’re a mixed bunch in age and personality and it is immediately clear that the outdoor life is not one they are used to.
Nevertheless the kids show some enthusiasm when they set off on a hunt for wood for the campfire.
The first sign of the coming problem is the arrival of a friendly and unaccompanied dog, ‘Horatio’ who Marlene takes back to camp until the owner can be found. Peter, the classmate, shins up a tall tree, despite Marlene’s protests, and reports a more disturbing discovery. He says that all he can see for miles around is fires ‘like volcanoes’.
As they cannot see for themselves neither Marlene nor Joni know what to make of Peters claim, but they are soon to find out that the problems they will face are much, much worse.
I hadn’t realised this was a dystopian novel when I started the book, but the signs are everywhere that something significant has happened beyond the sheltered confines of their isolated camping spot.
What follows is the efforts of this unlikely group to discover what has happened to the people in the surrounding countryside, and to make contact with any other survivors.
I have to say that, for me, on this occasion, the idea behind the story was more compelling than the course the story eventually takes. Marlene is not easy to like, and this part, her personality, was hard to get past, though I really wanted to be behind her in her struggle. The problem is that she is at the camp to bond with her kids, as if it is just another tick on her to-do list. She is a business woman who feels that her dedication to her work is misunderstood. Marlene didn’t need to be this way for the storyline, and I felt that it made her much less easy to get behind in her new role as leader of the pack of survivors.
There are some cruel twists and while this would never be a credible story without some of the cast falling victim to the circumstances, I felt that maybe there were a couple (or three) poor choices in there.
All The Little Children is a fluent and well written book, but this one was not entirely for me.