Cathedral by Dave Jeffery
Demain Publishing, ebook, £2.20
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The world has been ravaged by a variation of Meningitis, called MNG-U, which has claimed most of the population’s lives. Those who caught MNG-U and lived were left deaf, incapable of ever recovering their hearing. This has divided the survivors into three groups, those who have been made deaf from MNG-U, those who never caught it and can still hear, called Harks, and those who were deaf before MNG-U referred to as Harbingers.
Sarah is a survivor of MNG-U, a musician who has been robbed of ever enjoying her greatest passion again is an inhabitant of Cathedral. Cathedral is a reclaimed area around Birmingham Cathedral where survivors have come together to form a new society. The rules are strict, but fair in her mind. People can only communicate using telepads, not hand gestures. Everyone has their role to play within the community, only the Samaritans go outside to bring back provisions. All of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are met; food, warmth and sex, but romantic relationships are discouraged. Instead, residents stay together for a month, then move on to a new partner. But who needs romance when their safety is secure?
Then Paul arrives at Cathedral, another survivor rescued by the Samaritans and catches Sarah’s attention. She ensures she is Paul’s first Month Mate, and in doing so unlocks a part of the old life she had forgotten, the need for companionship. Could it be that Cathedral is not meeting all her needs? How will Sarah feel when Paul moves into another woman’s house and is sleeping her bed? How far will she go to stay with Paul?
Cathedral is the second in Jeffrey’s post-apocalyptic world, the first being A Quiet Apocalypse. While A Quiet Apocalypse explored a person who didn’t catch MNG-U might survive, Cathedral turns our attention to those who caught it and are now deaf.
In Cathedral, we understand why. I should start by saying, this was not an easy read. Still, the delicate subject matter was handled sensitively, so even though some horrific events could trigger some people (you were warned), it was done so as not to glamourise the event.
Jeffery explores the range of emotions someone might feel at losing one of their senses. By choosing a musician as his main character, her pain is magnified. He also covers the pain and suffering survivors who have lost their family to MNG-U and shows how, when grief is stoked into rage rather than comforted and soothed, people are capable of atrocities in the name of vengeance.
This puts the reader in a challenging situation. Sarah is complicit in the atrocities carried out against Harbingers who are blamed for the MNG-U outbreak and Harks who are treated as lower than slaves. And yet her time with Paul begins to crack her defensive walls, and we see she is capable of more than Cathedral is allowing her to be. We are rooting for someone who beats other people because they were born deaf.
As always, Jeffery’s writing is clear and concise. It is that simplicity which means the atrocities are uncomfortable reads rather than sensationalised.
The underlying theme is whether Maslow’s trapezium is enough for human survival, which I believe is enough. Take away our compassion and understanding, then the cruelty we can achieve is shameful. And never has that been clearer than now, as we are living through our own version of MNG-U, Covid-19. Cathedral is a warning to us all that survival alone is not enough and done in such a way that the ending will stay with you long after you have put the book down. I thoroughly enjoyed A Quiet Apocalypse, find my review here, and Cathedral is a more than worthy sequel. I can’t recommend both books enough.