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Reviewed: The Last Man Standing by Davide Longo, MacLehose

The Last Man StandingIf you liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, then this is highly recommended. While McCarthy’s story played out in a landscape ravaged by some unspecified cataclysm, this is possibly more disturbing because it is set in a recognisable Italy in 2025. One only has to look at the bitter waves of unrest that have surged across Europe these past months to find Longo’s dystopia unsettlingly plausible.

Leonardo is an intellectual, a professor and novelist whose career and marriage have been ruined by a sexual dalliance. There are echoes of JM Coetzee’s Disgrace here. Like David Lurie, who flees his sex scandal in Cape Town to take refuge on a farm, so Leonardo heads for his vineyard in the country. Neither will find a safe haven in their retreats and like Lurie, Leonardo will ultimately be called on to protect his daughter.

Longo sounds the first notes of menace in his opening chapter, in a hotel now fenced in and guarded by armed men. “On the counter you could still see where objects, now vanished, must once have stood. One space looked as if it might once have held a computer. A telephone had survived, even if no longer attached to any cable.” On an old bed frame behind it “a lot of postcards showing places which were now inaccessible had been clipped with clothes pegs.”

The decaying hotel with its thieving owner is the harbinger of what lies ahead: closed borders, banks with no money, packs of feral dogs and gangs of equally feral youths ranging across the land. The state begins to putrefy. Leonard’s ex-wife brings their daughter and her new stepson to the farm for safety but when the place is ransacked he realises he has no option but to take the children and try and cross the Alps to Switzerland.

On this brutal journey of survival Leonardo will be stripped to the very essence of his being.

Davide Longo is one of Italy’s most esteemed authors. In the hands of his translator the writing is stately and spare, and his examination of human nature and the veneer of civilisation is deeply absorbing.

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