If love does not pin you down, if love is not heavy enough to keep you in place, what on earth could be? If love is not enough then guilt cannot be enough, duty cannot be enough. But what do they weigh?
I usually craft a bespoke blurb for the books I review, but I can’t possibly improve on this gorgeous quote, which neatly summarises the heart-aching themes of Premee Mohamed’s new novella The Annual Migration of Clouds.
This is my second Premee Mohamed novella of the year, and with one left to read (And What Can We Offer You Tonight), I’m already calling it: I have a new favourite author. I haven’t seen anywhere near enough chatter about these – possibly because the novellas have been released by smaller presses with limited marketing – so listen up, folks: you need to get your hands on them.
In The Annual Migration of Clouds, the world died in pieces. The apocalypse wasn’t some climactic event; there was no final day you could look back on with curses; there was just another storm, another brown out, another failure that exposed a fragile global ecosystem engineered around efficiency and profit. When cad – a deadly parasite – emerged and spread around the world like wildfire, it didn’t spell the end of the world; it was just another disaster as all humanity’s bills came due at once. The oldest survivors remember the last days of air travel and holidays, supermarkets and light switches. For everyone else, the past truly is a foreign country – and one resented for its selfish plenty.
Reid lives in a riverside community – all communities are by rivers, nowhere else has enough water for crops – built on an old university campus. Life is fragile, dependent on shared labour and carefully managed calories. For Reid and her mother, who both carry cad, it is more fragile than most: any day could be the one that the delicate green tracery under their skin goes wild and kills them.
Your future is laid out from birth. You are born into a community, raised by the community, and find a way to contribute to it for the rest of your life. When Reid receives an unheard of invitation to join the fabled university – an actual university teaching and conducting research within the safety of a dome, not just a city in the ruins of one – the news is greeted with disbelief, disapproval, outright betrayal. Nobody leaves. Reid feels judged and found wanting merely for having received the offer, regardless of whether she chooses to accept it.
…which brings us straight to that searing quote. Regardless of the court of public opinion, Reid has a choice. She can stay with her mother – who she loves and rages against, the woman who raised her, the woman who gave her a deadly parasite – and continue trying to rebuild in the ruins. Or she can reject expectations and reach out for the new – for herself, and perhaps, if the university truly exists and if the offer is real, for the world. Because here’s the rub: nobody has ever been to the university under the dome. So nobody has ever come back.
There are no easy answers for Reid. She must either dismiss the university offer as nothing more than a childish dream or turn her back on a community that she loves and that needs her. The novella unpicks the various burdens of guilt and duty as Reid is torn between love, rage and fear, alternately supported and undermined by those who know and love her best. The result is a searing depiction of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, caught between childish mistakes and adult ambitions, confused about her feelings for her best friend and her increasingly charged relationship with her mother.
The Annual Migration of Clouds may be a post-apocalyptic tale of survival, but – like These Lifeless Things (which you should also read) – it’s one built around acts of faith and love in a world that may be broken, but still has something to offer. It’s about the decisions we make that shape our lives, and the forces that shape the context in which we make them. Premee Mohamed’s prose is a delight, as is her knack of cutting straight to the heart of her story with loving banter and vicious truths. And if that’s not enough for you, there’s feral pigs and a magnificently grumpy lesbian couple who are much too old for anyone else’s nonsense. It’s stuck with me for days and will likely stick far longer.
Looks like all my favourite novellas this year are going to have been written by Premee Mohamed. And that’s fine by me.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. THE ANNUAL MIGRATION OF CLOUDS is available now in ebook and paperback from ECW Press.