Edition 26: Book Review: The Eschatologist by Greg Chapman
Reviewed by Lee Murray
In our time-poor society, novellas are becoming a mainstay of our literary diet: stories which can be told in manageable bite-sized chunks, ideal for bedtime reading or workday commutes. So, when Greg Chapman’s The Eschatologist came across my desk, just 96 pages of concentrated darkness, it didn’t languish on the pile for long.
Let’s start with a definition of ‘eschatologist’, a word I had to put on my spelling list. Loosely, eschatology is the study of religions or theologies which are manifest at the end of days. And you have to wonder what that might look like. What ideologies might we be driven to in the face of overwhelming despair? Because, as military chaplain Cummings is purported to have said at the Battle of Bataan, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’.
Chapman’s story begins where the world ends: former homicide detective David Brewer and his family have survived the apocalypse only to be thrown into a living hell. Cold and starving, there is little hope they’ll survive longer than a few days, and Brewer has only six bullets left, three of which he will need if he is to spare his family from a slow death.
On the face of it at least, The Eschatologist appears to be traditional a post-apocalyptic tale, its bleakness made keener by Chapman’s use of visual prose, as we would expect from someone whose creative time is shared between writing and art. For example, the ‘open spaces of endless nothing [that] made it hard to breathe’, are punctuated with ‘great columns of jagged rock birthed during the end of the world’. Where other writers select words that add depth and vibrancy to their narrative, Chapman’s imagery strips his scenes of colour, paring them back until they resemble ‘the blackened remnants of last night’s fire’.
When it seems things could not be bleaker, Brewer and his family are attacked by a band of men intent on stripping them of the little they have left. Brewer is beaten and hogtied, and his wife Marci and daughter Kaley are on the verge of being raped. At this point, a strange albino—the eschatologist—steps in to deliver them, summarily killing their attackers and dragging the family to his bizarre secular community deep in the woods.
What happens next isn’t pretty, but it is provocative because the story takes place in a void of hope. Even if they should escape the community, there is little chance that Brewer’s family will find salvation. The Eschatologist is true horror, as black as the lining of the Reaper’s cape, but it’s intentional; Chapman demanding that we examine what individuals—ordinary citizens like you and I —will accede to when hopelessness and fear take over and pure survival kicks in. Who will be forsaken? What values will be abandoned in the pursuit of life? And further still, how will those choices change when there is no chance of a happy ending?
New to his work, I checked out Chapman’s website to see what else he’d written. I got distracted by the art. Turns out, he’s the artist behind the Bram Stoker award-winning graphic novel, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, by Lisa Morton and Rocky Wood. It comes as no surprise then, that Chapman did the cover artwork for The Eschatologist. There’s also a trailer for featuring his artwork—worth a look because it conjures all the drab hopelessness of Chapman’s prose.
Did I like the story? Yes, but not in a feel-good way. A study of human nature and the degradation of humanity in the face of hopeless odds, this story is unsettling and raw. I found myself pondering if this were to happen to my family, would my personal ideology go the distance? Readers should be prepared to find themselves thinking about this book well after they have read the final page.
The Eschatologist (Greg Chapman) novella
Voodoo Press, 2016
Lee Murray writes fiction for adults and children, twice winning New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction and fantasy writing. However, she has only recently turned her hand to horror, and finds teenagers to be far more terrifying than spiders or zombies.