HomeBooksA Struggle for Humanity: Lark Ascending, Dystopia and Grief

A Struggle for Humanity: Lark Ascending, Dystopia and Grief

“The only thing I knew for sure that day was that many circumstances – mostly the actions of those in power – had led to that moment and a million others just like it. Everyone who benefited from devastating the natural world. Everyone who participated in the misinformation and discrimination that led to my country’s collapse. Everyone who gained power or money from war.”

Kentucky-born bestselling author Silas House’s latest novel, Lark Ascending, warns us of a seemingly near-dystopian future through the eyes of main character, Lark, and an unsuspecting secondary protagonist—a dog named Seamus.

Fires have completely demolished the United States. Radical, oppressive groups have taken over virtually every country—the Fundamentalists aka “Fundies” in the U.S. and the Naysayers aka “Nays” in Ireland. We get bits and pieces of what has happened in other countries, but the storyline primarily
focuses on these two.

The novel first follows the storyline of Lark, with his family on a ship on its way to Ireland, the last known country to take in refugees.

Lark is a timid, introspective 20-year-old whose only recollection of what he calls “Before” are family gatherings, birthday parties, a swimming pool. Not only is that time long gone, he reflects, but he can hardly remember or fathom it. When the ship is shot down to sink by the Nays, just moments away
from the coast, Lark finds himself stranded, alone, on an island in Ireland.

Fueled by survivor’s guilt and the hope for Glendalough—the outlying safe haven his parents depended on, Lark is determined to stay alive, no matter the circumstances.

Don’t give up.”

A perfect short prayer.” 

We are thrown into the mind of an unlikely secondary protagonist: a beagle named Seamus, paying homage to the late Irish poet, Seamus Heaney.

Seamus lives a simple life “Before.” He is deeply devoted to his owner (who he refers to as “the man”), loved by the bar patrons, and maintains serenity on the island he calls home. That is until domesticated animals across the world are banned due to a shortage of food. Many are faced with the moral decision
to kill their beloved pets, but the man does not.

Implausible circumstances of survival bring the two (and later, three) together for a heartwarming story of the struggle for humanity and issues of grief in an apocalyptic world. While this novel focuses on themes of humanity and grief, it also questions it. In a kill-or-be-killed world, where does one
draw the line? Who can you trust, if anybody, and why did you choose to trust them? Is there any time to grieve when you’re trying to survive?

House does an impeccable job of getting into the minds of these two characters, who we begin to see are very much alike—trusting, devoted, obedient.

Later on, led to Glendalough by jaded, gruff Helen, an Irish native searching for her lost son, the two follow blindly as she leads their way. Helen, who has always been a lone wolf, chooses to take the boy and dog with her, though this could be detrimental to her survival. But who really is Helen? Can Lark
and Seamus trust her?

Lark Ascending proves to be an incredible commentary on our compassion for others, just how far we will go to survive and what it means to grieve in a time where there is nothing left. House cleverly slips little music references here and there throughout the novel to the time “Before,” quoting R.E.M.’s “The One I Love,” which Lark recalls his mother singing often, then finds himself doing as well to keep going.

The novel takes its readers through this journey of survival through a tiny island in Ireland—and does not lack any descriptors of beauty—the small hope and little things keeping the three characters alive.




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