Not Dark Yet by by Berit Ellingsen
At times, because I read incessantly, I grow weary of novels published by the major houses; novels that are written and released with the intention to reach a majority of readers and to sell. For palate cleansing I turn to books from indie publishers. Two Dollar Radio is such a one, run out of their home in Columbus, OH. by a husband and wife team. Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian science writer and novelist who lives in Norway and writes in English. Not Dark Yet is her second novel.
A weird and wondrous novel it is. The first sentence: “Sometimes, in Brandon Minamoto’s dreams, he found a globe or a map of the world with a continent he hadn’t seen before.” He has just left his boyfriend in the city and gone to live in a decrepit cabin in the mountains, seeking quiet. His military experiences and an incident when he felt forced to kill a research owl haunt him. Inner quiet and outer space are his quests. He hopes to be accepted into the space program as an astronaut. His life in the cabin moves as slowly as a glacier through fall, winter, and early spring.
In flashbacks we learn his history and gradually come to realize that you wouldn’t want this guy in a spaceship with you.
As a teen, he used to dream of a “round body of water the color of the sky” that echoes a fountain he had visited with his mother when just a toddler. During a visit to their paternal grandparents in Korea, he and his brother went to a shrine containing the relic of a monk who had been mummified after fasting to death.
Then follows a story (from inside Brandon’s mind?) of the monk’s long and agonizing journey into the spirit world through starvation. Brandon’s conclusion is “He wanted to be happy.
What more does human life have to offer?” Self-imposed loneliness, more dreams of a bodiless spirit nature, training his body to survive in space, and a brief foray into environmental terrorism follow.
In a refreshing twist, this is not a post-apocalyptic novel but a pre-apocalyptic one. The awareness of climate change, melting ice, rising sea levels, violent storms, food shortages, and animals going extinct, permeate the story.
Written in close third person making you feel you are in Brandon’s head, seeing with his eyes, feeling the cold, longing for space, this is a novel that might convince even a climate denier to have another look.
Not since Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl have I experienced such an intense second sight meditation on where we are headed. Except that in Not Dark Yet, the elegant symmetry between one man’s yearning and the demise of the entire race moves it several paces away from an eco thriller.
The tone is more like early J. G. Ballard. Deadpan recital of mundane daily events punctuated with explosions of disaster or Brandon’s surreal dreams. I finished the book and could not leave the world she had created for hours. I cleaned the house and tried to read another book. No go. This is why I read!