This incredibly moving modern day twisted fairy tale in some ways feels like a poetic blend of Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave meets M Night Shyamalan’s The Village with a dash of I Am Legend.
Landfill spends his days amongst the animals and ruins of Hinterland living with Babagoo, a Scavenger, who aids their survival by leaving Hinterland each day bringing back rubbish and dead gulls to feed themselves and menagerie of animals and protect them all from the Outsiders who are infected with a horrible disease of hunger and madness.
However, Landfill is beginning to question the rules he has governed his life by and whether there really is nothing but waste and horror beyond the walls.
For child readers the innocence and wonder of Landfill’s world will resonate an air of adventure and abandon as he is living in a deprived but wild setting with many woodland and former domesticated animals for his friends, near a dump with a lot of rules to guarantee his survival from the horrors outside the wall. As the facade slowly is tarnished some children may be surprised by the developments due to the superb fully committed world immersion by Simpson.
He had no need to watch his bare feet and hopped over the dandelions…He squeezed past valves bursting with flowers and a knock of his heel against a conduit filled the air with butterflies
As an adult and a mother my heart broke reading this book, and I was very wobbly. I don’t think it’s spoilers to say that Landfill is a vulnerable semi-feral child living in an emotionally controlling situation with a mentally ill adult who may love Landfill but is in need of serious help.
The dichotomy between Babagoo’s abusive control and terrified desperation to not lose Landfill coupled with the compliance and affection from Landfill is sad and thought-provoking to read as the story unfolds and Landfill against all efforts by Babagoo encounters adolescence, questioning and the quest for self reliance and independence in this coming of age story.
There is so much to unlock here emotionally, socially and politically.
Landfill has been raised in isolation, Babagoo has obviously shown genuine affection for him as he has shown fatherly embraces and moments of camaraderie, and he desperately wishes for Landfill to be happy and ‘safe’ but whilst Landfill could take reasonable care of himself alone, effective parenting is not what could be described here even in a dystopian landscape.
It is a heartbreaking abusive situation perpetuated through emotional control and manipulation using fear and threats of violence and abandonment when Landfill breaks or challenges the rules of Hinterland.
Yet despite this emotional abuse and the isolated context Landfill still undergoes the classic changes that occur to children at adolescence as he begins to question, to push boundaries and to step out on his own much to the horror and frustration of Babagoo that Landfill is changing and not as easily compliant as when younger. Simpson explores the fine line between love and oppression as real life struggles parents may feel when their child demands independence that feels uncomfortable or untimely to the adults.
There is also social and political commentary on the disposable attitude to society, of how a man and child can just about survive on the waste of society and make it their perception of paradise (hungry, smelly but their own form of idyllic) juxtaposed with ineffectiveness of society to deal sensitively with Landfill’s situation.
There is also a call to the reader to recognise the blindness by which ‘civilised’ people seem conditioned to deal with the most vulnerable in society such as the homeless, the hungry and those who are being controlled knowingly or not. It’s well worth reading The Book Trust article where Simpson discusses his inspirations.
You’re jabbering nonsense! Fibbery and mischief!!
The writing is poetic yet bleak and visceral (in the literal sense occasionally) and as noted earlier, the world building is immensely detailed.
I especially love the playful nature of the language with linguistic misnomers to created and old fashioned language such as ‘gandering’ and ‘foxlers’ resulting from Landfill’s innocent interpretation of Babagoo’s vocabulary and dialect. There is also hypocrisy suggesting Babagoo has an educated and erudite background as he names each creature in Hinterland after greats of literature many of whom were seekers of truth and rebels from Atwood to Winterson via Hesse and Vonnegut yet denies Landfill even to look at magazines and books
The questions of what it means to be safe and happy are constantly present between the moments of idyllic bliss against the grinding destitution and hungry bellies in Babagoo and Landfill’s Hinterland and times of tears and fear juxtaposed against genuine moments of cameradie and affection.
Overall, this is a story that will stay with me for some time, particularly as a parent. It may be a bit odd for some but there are plenty of questions of what it means to be human, to be civilised, to be a good parent, to be safe and to be happy.
Scavengers by Darren Simpson is published by Usborne and available online and from bookstores.