I recently finished reading David Williams’ novel, When the English Fall. It was recommended to me by my daughter, Olivia. The primary reason for her recommendation was because she simply found it to be an interesting read. And she thought I might, too. But I wonder if she might have remembered (at least on a subconscious level) a similar novel that I tried to write about ten years ago. The premise to Williams’ story is striking in its similarity to the book I had in mind! (Though, to be clear, I’m not at all accusing him of plagiarism). It’s about a high-tech world brought to its knees by the failure of its electric and electronic systems.
In my unfinished novel, the cause of the failure was war. In Williams’ novel, the cause of the failure was a natural disaster. During this time of chaos and confusion, the path to survival becomes questionable for all humanity. But the greatest hope seems to rest with the Plain people of North America. The Mennonites — and their near neighbors — in Richland County, Ohio, in the case of my story. Or the Amish — and their near neighbors — in southeastern Pennsylvania. It really is interesting to see an author who had a similar idea to what I was considering years ago. But Williams, of course, took that concept to completion. And that was also interesting.
I like the way that Williams developed the setting for his story. He addresses themes of climate change and cultural complexity in ways that are intriguing and instructive. Consequently, it becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of a society so disconnected from the natural world around it.
I didn’t love the story-telling device employed for this book: an Amish farmer writing in a secret journal. I think the story may have worked better from an omniscient narrator “looking over the shoulder” of the protagonist and his family. The “Plain folk” voice could have worked better in dialogue than in narration. The farmer’s daughter, Sadie, was by far the most interesting character. But I wish she could have been more developed. And finally, the ending of the book was disappointing. Unless, of course, it was designed to create space for a sequel.
All that being said, I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read. And if a sequel were to be published, I’d be very likely to pick it up. In the story that I was originally imagining, myself, I put far more emphasis on the resettlement than on the uprooting. I think there’s a fascinating future to consider, where all the “backwards” becomes “forward” again. I’m not likely to ever write that book, myself. So I hope that Williams does.