Robert C. O’Brien
Z for Zachariah
Penguin Puffin (UK: 26th February 1998; AU: 11th March 1998); Simon & Schuster Pulse (US & CA: 18th August 2015)
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TRIGGER WARNINGS: Attempted rape; dog death.
Z for Zachariah was first published in 1974, and has stayed in print ever since. Robert C. O’Brien died in 1973, but his wife and one of his children completed the novel based on his notes.
It’s simply brilliant. The science in regards to the “meteorological enclave” may be iffy at best, but the characterisation is wonderfully executed. Ann Burden is the strong, resourceful teenage heroine who’s been completely alone for a year but has survived just fine. Growing up on a farm was ideal to teach her the skills to live off the land – and the location has kept her alive in good stead. Because all communication with the rest of the world has been cut off, for all she knows she could be the last person on Earth.
But Ann is not the only one, though she’s better off alone.
Mr. Loomis was a plastics scientist in an underground bunker when the nuclear bombs dropped. His back-story is revealed when he talks in fevers brought on by radiation poisoning.
Ann’s wary of Loomis from the start for good reason. It’s an abusive relationship: She’s a teenage girl, he’s a fully-grown man. She nurses him as best he can, and he repays her by getting on her case for all the things he thinks she should’ve done. And even when Ann does what Loomis requests, he always finds something else to complain about. The abuse is psychological, manipulative, but when it turns physical Ann has to count on all her knowledge and skills to keep alive and safe. But time does not heal all wounds, and Loomis has yet another horrible plan in mind.
The tension builds as the novel turns from suspense to thriller. It’s a genuinely scary read, and easy to understand why it’s such a classic tale to be shared with the next generations.
And now, a word about the film:
SPOILERS: Ann’s character has been aged up, “Caleb” is nowhere to be found in the book, and the film’s heavier on Christianity (it’s much lighter in the novel). As for Ann trying to seduce Loomis in the film, I’m so angry about that. When a character is almost raped in a book, but in the film she tries to seduce the guy… That’s not Ann’s character, and I can’t help but wonder if the film wrote in “Caleb”, too, to sex up the story. That’s not Robert C. O’Brien’s version of Ann’s fifteen-/sixteen-year-old life. And I side with the author rather than the adapters.
So yeah, the film sounds very much unfaithful to the novel.