I was so excited when I discovered this book. I loved Frankenstein so much and this was an apocalyptic story, the last man on earth. The book was written after (Percy) Shelley's death and Byron also died when she was a third of the way through writing it and I think this had a big influence on the book.
The introduction is lovely, telling how exploration of the Sybil's cave in Greece led them to finding the real and secret hidden cave, where they found pages of prophecy. The prophecy is the tale of the end of man's time on earth.
The book starts very slowly. I think it took me about two weeks to read the first half. It's gorgeous romantic style prose that is hard going but very rewarding. The first half of the novel is set in the 21st century of England. It feels almost like a gothic novel, rather than a futuristic one. The King has abdicated and is living as a Duke. There are fictionalised versions of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, tragic romances and battles to govern England.
About half way through the book, with the death of the Byron character, it all starts to go horribly wrong. Plague starts spreading across the world and everyone starts dying. With the start of the plague this book becomes one of the most impressive things I've ever read. The destruction of humanity is written about so incredibly beautifully and so realistically. All the different stages the country goes through, the years of death and destruction. In one scene during the height of the plague the main character comes across a woman whose husband has been taken to St Bartholomew’s hospital (right next to where I now work). After the horrors of the hospital he wanders down to Dury lane and finds Hamlet being performed. This was such an astounding scene. It really caught the hopelessness and fear you'd imagine in such a situation. One of the most haunting passages I've ever read.
I have to say I really really enjoyed this book. It was such a great look at the failure of nature and humanity. I must now find everything this woman wrote....Continua