I don't know who it was that said we're only ever three meals away from revolution but this book brings that phrase to life by showing that, no matter how civilized we think we are, however stable our society seems to be, we are never that far away from barbarity.
This book may have been more aptly named had it been called "The Death of Civilization". Yes, a virus does emerge that attacks all forms of grass and spreads virulently across the globe defying mankind's attempts to halt it in its tracks but really that is just a vehicle for the author's exploration of how quickly and completely civilization might collapse and how completely previously mild natured and morally scrupulous people my be forced to change.
At the start I could not help but compare John Christopher to John Wyndham as another British writer writing about 1950's Britain facing apocalypse and focusing on middle class protagonists. But as the story developed, a clear difference began to emerge. Wyndham has been accused of writing "cosy catastrophes" and this story is anything but. Horrible and harsh things happen to the protagonists that are quickly forced to set aside their qualms in order to survive. It is one thing to deliberate on rights and wrongs and genteel behaviour when one is far removed the threat of annihilation. Although they agonise over whether the ends justify the means, they are forced to confront the fact that only those that say they do have a chance of being around to discuss it afterwards.
A short novel at less than 200 pages but it doesn't feel rushed. I felt it was perfectly paced in fact. The narrative style felt a little dry and stuffy initially but no longer felt that way when the story really took off. Not far short of being a masterpiece in my opinion.