A divine being once said it would be a curse for humans to be able to predict their future, and in fact we cannot. But some people make such accurate predictions that I wonder if that curse has not befallen them. It is the case of Chris Antone, the author of Vicilization: The Fall, a book first published (in French) in 2011 that amazingly predicted the gilet jaune (yellow vest) riots, that took place several years later with an accuracy that gives you the creeps. You wonder what else about the story will come true, while you pray for it not to happen.
Because it’s too bad, it’s the end of our civilization as we know it. It’s going back to almost primitive times.
When you read this book, you realize how fragile the pillars upon which our society is based are. Something we have seen only recently; no, something we are still going through, and will for some time, with the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus that shut the world in in barely two months and destroyed the world’s economy, killing millions and throwing into unemployment and bankruptcy many more.
Chris Antone does not predict a pandemic, but what he foresees, in addition to the already mentioned yellow vest riots, is a sombre reality that nowadays seems much too likely. Some of the scenes show you a dismal word many of us have recently experienced.
The main character of the story is Jacques, a young architect who lives in Paris, a decadent city torn by poverty, civil unrest and terrorism. As I read it, I could not suppress a shiver. Paris to me was the most magnificent city in the world. I went there many times, for work and leisure and I used to walk for miles and sit in the café boulevards sipping a Kir Royale, feeling happy and safe, privileged to be there. The last time I was there, three or four years ago, I sat at the same terrace – the Café de la Paix – and as I looked at the impressive façade of the Opéra I could not help thinking this would be a likely place for terrorists to place a bomb. I shrugged off these thoughts and sat back and enjoyed the moment, but the city’s atmosphere had definitely changed. Then came the yellow vests and the migrants, and a friend told me it was appalling to walk around the boulevards and feel the stench of urine of the homeless that were growing by the day. It’s sad, but I feel I no longer want to go to Paris – I want to keep it in my mind as I remember it, like a loved one whose decay you’d rather forget, keeping in your heart the image of brighter days.
Jacques goes into his now empty office, surrounded by a “strange silence” and he remembers “the buzzing of activity when there was still work for everyone, and nothing seemed able to stop their remarkable expansion”. I recall going to an empty office too, and nowadays it’s still more than half empty. Still, in our case this is not bad, as we have discovered how well one can work from home. But this sentence is a perfect fit to what has been happening to hotels, travel agencies and all businesses related to travels and hospitality. From being a full-employment, thriving sector, it’s in ruins, many companies having disappeard or facing bankruptcy, many – too many – people unemployed.
With Jacques we follow the fall of civilization as we know it – the failure of security and basic structures like police or energy supply; the fear, the “save yourself” frenzy that turns men into beasts; the lack of basic supplies, the plunder in search for food and other goods, the hoarding, the constant riots and violence in the once peaceful and now dangerous streets; then, when he finally realises his survival depends on his leaving the city, we follow his epic journey to the countryside, to the village his family originates from, where he plans to begin a new life, as different from his previous one as it could be.
This is a book worth reading. When I first read it, it gave me some nightmares and we were far from the challenging situation we now find ourselves in. But as I went on and unease gripped me, I also marvelled at the ever present flicker of hope, however tenuous, that never leaves Jacques as he struggles for his life, for a possible future. If he succeeds or not, I will let you discover.
I know Chris Antone is already working on his second novel, a sequel to The Fall. I’m looking forward to reading it. Chris, if you read this, and even if you have to go on describing a cruel world, please do not forget to keep that flicker of hope alive – more than ever we need it to brighten up our days.