In the not too distant future, the American south west has been laid to waste. Now waterless, sand dunes have advanced over California and beyond. Most people left when they had the chance, and the few that chose to stay are now effectively trapped there, any exit fiercely guarded to protect the more fertile lands to the north.
Former model Luz and her boyfriend Ray chose to stay, and sustain themselves on limited water rations and cola. Living out of the mansion of a former Hollywood starlet, they try to keep themselves busy.
Then they stumble across Ig, a two-year-old girl whom Luz believes may be being abused by the individuals she travels with. Unable to leave her at risk, they take her, and are soon besotted with her. And they begin to wish for a better kind of life – not just for Ig, but also for themselves.
Whilst not a truly post-apocalyptic novel, Gold Fame Citrus has many themes in common with ‘end of the world’ novels – the hardship and the struggle to survive in harsh conditions, for example – and as such fans of this genre will get a lot out of this novel. The writing is incredibly descriptive, and enables the reader to form an image of the barren landscape that California and surroundings areas have become. And there is a warning inherent in Gold Fame Citrus – the idea that this is a possible future is terrifying. Like much of Margaret Atwood’s work, Gold Fame Citrus can be considered speculative, rather than science, fiction.
Luz is a strange character, and I didn’t really warm to her. I thought her vapid, needy and generally quite irritating, although this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Unable to cope on her own, she has become almost entirely reliant upon Ray, and when their journey forces them to separate, you wonder how, and indeed if, she’ll survive…
Another character worthy of mention is Levi, the enigmatic cult leader who Luz later falls in with after… what happens happens. Levi is rumoured to have the ability to dowse for water – a skill which, in this barren landscape, is extremely useful. Like all cult leaders, Levi is charismatic and manipulative – he knows how to get what he wants from people. Hearing Watkins talk at this year’s Hay Festival, I was fascinated to hear that she drew on her own father’s experience as a member of Charles Manson’s cult (he didn’t participate in what came later) to develop this character, and Levi felt incredibly realistic because of this.
I found Gold Fame Citrus to be a captivating novel – dark and ominous, it presents a chillingly plausible future. The writing throughout is superb, and I highly recommend this wonderful, if slightly harrowing, novel.