The Doloriad by Missouri Williams

The Doloriad is a dark, surreal novel about a family of survivors living in a nightmare future. Some kind of environmental apocalypse has occurred and almost everyone is gone, except a family living on the outskirts of a city, sustained by incest and ruled over by the Matriarch. The careful balance of power and attempts to grow and scavenge what they need are interrupted when the Matriarch sends away her daughter Dolores, in the hope of marrying her to other survivors who she believes are out there.

If the summary doesn’t suggest it enough, I’ll say it: this is a weird book. It revels in this weirdness, packed full of strange jokes and references (perhaps the most notable being a TV show in which Thomas Aquinas turns up to solve disputes) and written like a Greek tragedy (with all the violence and incest you might expect from one). The writing style is distinctive, with long descriptive sentences and a narrative voice that moves between characters fluidly, and this makes the book feel both very new and older than it is (maybe partly because of the Czech stuff in it, but it did draw to my mind Kafka and other similar writers, where you have to pay attention through the absurd).

The Doloriad is not an easy book to review, definitely unforgettable, well written, and with a haunting philosophical question: at what cost is survival against all odds and is it really worth it? It’s probably a love/hate type book, with the meandering plot and shifting perspectives (and dark content) not for everyone, but it really sets out what near-future fiction could be, beyond what has been imagined before.