Book Review - Noah's Castle by John Rowe Townsend
I was recently contacted by a publisher asking if I was interested in reading a title that they had available. The book was Noah's Castle by John Rowe Townsend. This offer came from the review I did of One Second After, and Noah's Castle walks in the same general genre. Even though this was initially released in 1975 and was targeted as a young adult offering, it aged well and speaks to all readers regardless of age. I found myself reading "just one more chapter", and this morning I'm suffering a bit for not going to bed earlier.
The story is set in England, and life is hard (and getting harder). There's an economic crisis, and inflation is starting to make it harder to afford basic goods. Barry Mortimer, a 16-year-old typical teenager, lives with his three other siblings, his mother, and a very controlling and autocratic father. Norman, the father, sees the deteriorating economy and buys a large fortress-like home without consulting anyone. He moves the family to their new abode (something that didn't go over well with any of them), and then starts becoming secretive about his activities in the basement. It turns out he's starting to buy and barter to obtain a massive store of food to weather the crisis. As hyperinflation kicks in, millions go hungry, but the Mortimer family is still doing fine. But Norman's dictatorial obsession over hoarding is driving his family away from him as they see others going without. To increase the tension, hoarding is now considered a crime, and Norman knows that a single phone call could destroy everything he's done to provide for his family. As people start to notice his family's lack of activity to gather food, Norman's world becomes more fragile (along with his mental stability).
The reason this is considered a young adult novel is that it's written in first-person from the point of view of Barry. He's been raised to be loyal to his father and to obey, but he has major problems reconciling his abundance with the poverty and need around him. He's walking a fine line between keeping things quiet and helping those who ask (without appearing to have an abundance himself). As the reader, I kept shifting my opinion of Norman between uncaring for others over providing for his family. I was also intrigued by the societal shifts and how easy it is for something like hyperinflation to feed on itself with no conceivable end in sight. Townsend doesn't go into great detail about the mechanics behind why England found themselves in this situation, but it's still a sobering look at how difficult life could be in that situation.
Noah's Castle is a very good read, made even more interesting given the 35 year gap between the original story and today.
Obtained From: Publisher