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Follow the Author
Before and After Kindle Edition
- ASIN : B082XFC63T
- Publisher : Andrew Shanahan (10 January 2020)
- Language : English
- File size : 388 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 196 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 177,494 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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The story kept building layer upon layer, it did not let up at all.
Great main characters and well written action.
A bitter-sweet tale that had humour, tragedy, and adventure.
A real winner!
Top reviews from other countries
It sounds like a crazy setup for a book - but it actually provides a platform for a very clever sideways take on the survival story.
Like Tom Hanks trapped on his desert island in Castaway, our hero, Ben Stone, has to find ways to keep him - and his adorable dog - alive and well, despite limited food, water and...a lot of weird stuff outside his flat. Cue various hilarious scenes where Ben manages to scrabble together just enough technical ingenuity to save his skin. Plus one *very* gruesome scene which has you wincing and belly-laughing in equal measure.
In parallel with all this fun stuff, there is also the very human story of Ben’s life leading up to this point: a surprisingly touching rumination on what leads a man to fear the world and hide away in his home and fall prey to addiction.
It’s ultimately an uplifting story: Ben finds inner hope and strength of character...but he still needs to deal with the scary stuff outside his flat.
I was immediately drawn into the events in the story. You’re soon rooting for the main character and the smart parallel time-line structure keeps the narrative zipping along. I really enjoyed the balance of funny set-pieces and heartfelt backstory. All in all a really fun and compelling read with some genuinely moving moments.
The protagonist is Ben Stone, a young man so agoraphobic that he only really sees the outside world from the balcony of his high-rise Housing Association flat, works entirely from home selling package trips to Disney resorts, and sends his dog for walks by drone. He is also a compulsive binge-eater and has reached a weight at which his mobility and health are severely affected - we're talking about the kind of life-threatening, disabling size that sees people featured on sensationalist documentaries and unable to lead a fully functional and independent life.
At the beginning of the story, a terrified Ben is waiting to be transferred to hospital, which because of his weight requires the assistance of specialist equipment and a fire crew, in order to have his leg amputated. But as he waits, it seems that some sort of national emergency is taking place outside. It soon becomes clear that Ben is about to experience the end of the world ... while strapped to a reinforced stretcher and unable to move.
The rest of the book is the story of Ben's survival, which is interspersed with flashbacks to his childhood, his relationship with his late mother and his gradual weight gain. The survival narrative is pretty much the stuff of a horror novel and as such, it's not terribly convincing (I don't for one second believe that a real-life version of Ben would have survived for more than a month) but it is entertaining, despite the elements that stretched my suspension of disbelief just that bit too far, and it's frequently very funny.
It helps that Ben is so utterly likeable. He's kind, gentle and clever and highly self-aware, so it's just impossible not to root for him. I appreciated the fact that at no point does he come across as lazy or greedy - he's simply a sensitive, lonely young man with a seemingly incurable addiction to eating.
I also liked the flashback sections, which are often quite moving. Ben's relationship with his mother is touching but not stifling, even when you get the impression she may inadvertently kill him with kindness. The bullying he endures and the clearly inappropriate ways in which various people try to make him lose weight - he's sent to humiliating diet classes that are quite obviously only going to make things worse - strongly suggest to me that if Ben had just been left alone as a fat teenager, he'd have carried on enjoying playing rugby as a larger man and would probably not have continued to gain weight.
For the most part, we're invited to sympathise with Ben and to understand his addiction, which makes a pleasant change from the way extremely fat characters are usually portrayed. However, the uncomfortable physical realities of his size and consequent limited mobility are talked about in frank detail and his appearance is only ever really addressed in terms of his own and other people's disgust. I found this somewhat dehumanising, at odds with the tone of the rest of the book. Although Ben is certainly an extreme case - to the extent that most of us will never actually encounter anyone his size face to face - the message here is very much that all fat is repulsive and grotesque, and Ben's journey, while presented as being mostly a positive one for him, really just diverts him from one eating disorder to another. I was uncomfortable with that message.
All things considered, however, I enjoyed Before and After overall - it's a quick, gruesome and very funny read, and comes across a bit like a weird cross between 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and My 600-lb Life. Plus, the main character is very likeable and, his mental and physical health issues aside, occupies a world that feels easily recognisable even when the events described are completely implausible.
Ben Stone is a gloriously interesting character. Not because a vegan with type 2 diabetes is an unusual choice of protagonist, or even that most of his story is set in a fourth floor council flat, but for his utterly brilliant performance on this quirky apocalyptic stage.
The challenges facing someone of Ben’s extreme size pose countless opportunities for life or death to thrive in this open season of ‘viral hostility’. Yet he launches a volley of unexpected surprises from beginning to end and addresses this new reality with candid observations and practical solutions ranging from hilarious to inspiring.
Only someone with Ben’s extensive personal experience of the world can survive the end of it by continuing to shut it out. Well, that, and maybe a little help from a dog with no bark, some innovative Lego use, the Princess Leah Buns, his mother’s Ghandi-esque wisdom, and a packet of limited edition Bourbon biscuits.
Priceless scenes include those involving the priest [especially the communion wafer], ‘Pinata’ Karl [and his many, many obscenities] and 100% anything featuring Brown [the dog]. Although a short, yet deeply poignant, epitaph provided a beautiful flourish to an already perfectly composed book.
(Wee bit incredulous that drones can transmit images wirelessly considering every other service is down, but still a cracking read!)
Some of the plot was pretty unlikely of course but highly amusing. The book is snappily writen. I deduct one star because I would have liked more about what actually happened in the outside world.