‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’

Walter M Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science novel. It starts off with an interaction between two people in the desert and it grows in scale from that encounter.

Walter M Miller was involved in the Battle of Monte Casino, in Italy, during the Second World War. Miller is on record as having said that his wartime experience in Italy inspired the story. Although it’s a post-apocalyptic story, this is really a novel about human resilience. It concedes that humanity will inevitably carry out irresponsible and foolishly destructive actions but, after such catastrophes, there will be cultural rebirth and social growth.

It’s also a Cold War novel about warmongering and the threat of nuclear devastation. And it’s a strangely timeless novel. Although it was published in 1959, but it could have been written in 1929 or 2009. The monastic order that it depicts feels more like historical fiction than science fiction.

I tend to favour fiction that centres around a central hero, who is able to solve his or her challenge (while also maintaining their essential goodness) within a character journey that coincides with the story arc. Without giving too much away, this isn't how the narrative of A Canticle for Leibowitz unfolds, which is what gives the novel its ambitious, monumental scale. If like me, you prefer a novel that follows a central hero who is able to solve the story problem, then the novel might become a struggle. If this is not the case, you might find it both surprising and thought provoking.

Verdict: Interesting.