The end of the world as we know it is proving a high lucrative storyline for the entertainment industry at present, and it's not difficult to see why. The threat of environmental catastrophe, the spectre of global terrorism, the global financial and economic crisis and the continued threat of swine or avian flu dominate front pages and the 24 hour news cycle. Each, taken to its most pessimistic conclusion, carries the potential to disrupt or destroy civilization.
And even without The Road, Survivors, 2012, Last Light or any number of other books and films to remind people of the potential dangers their way of life faces, I suspect most people who think about the world and its present condition do not find it difficult to imagine the worst.
The two areas that writers tend to explore in such stories are how and how quickly society breaks down and then how people survive afterwards. The "why" of the breakdown is often the least engaging part of the story because it is either daft (2012), inexplicable (Survivors) or just incomprehensible. The stories that paint a plausible "why" are the scary ones, and the ones that always grab me the hardest.
In The Things That Keep Us Here, the virus makes the leap from birds to humans and rapidly causes death and disruption on an unprecedented scale. The havoc wreaked by H5N1 is viewed through the eyes of Ann Brooks, a single mother living in Columbus, Ohio with her two daughters Maddie and Kate and her estranged husband Peter, a scientist tracking the disease.
When the virus takes its grip the Brooks are reunited in the family home - along with Shazia, one of Peter's research students - where they plan to live in isolation as the disease plays itself out. As the days pass, they begin to lose basic amenities one-by-one: power, water, telephony and finally food.
The pyschological drama here is intense and personal. It is merely one family's quest for survival. It is claustrophobic and singularly powerful because a basic family unit - of whatever shape or size - is a concept most readers can understand and consequently can envisage themselves in the same scenario. How do you cope in the cold and the dark and with dwindling food and water. And one of the clever aspects of the book is that the reader has access to the same information that the Brooks have. While there is television, we are given CNN snippets. When there are newspapers, we are given updated news reports. As power goes and paper cease to print there is nothing but the gossip picked up on analogue phone calls. When snow pulls the phone lines down, there is terrifying isolation: no news, no help, little hope.
It is at this point, as people close by begin dying that Buckley ratchets up the intensity with the presentation of heart-breaking dilemmas and questions: how will Ann react when a friend is at the window, clearly ill and infectious, and begging for help? How would you react? Will she and her family survive? Would you and yours? And what will be left for the survivors?
Those are the question Buckley asks again and again, and that you will ask yourself again and again as you read this moving and gripping debut.