A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet

In this powerfully unnerving apocalyptic novel by acclaimed American writer Lydia Millet, a group of several New York couples and their children are spending summer in a remote holiday home. The parents spend their days drinking and lounging, while the children, among them the teenage narrator Evie, are left mostly to their own devices. One day, a severe storm rages along the coast that has irreversible consequences for them all.

However, this is far from a straightforward story. It's clear from the outset that there's something odd about the relationships between the children, who are mostly in their early teens, and the parents. Evie's narration is almost eerie in its calm maturity, and the cold disdain - loathing, even - that the children have for the adults is unsettling and unexplained. They want so little to do with their parents, in fact, that they have an ongoing game in which they try not to reveal to one another whose children they are. When the storm comes and the flood waters rise, it's the children who take action while their parents seem intent on fiddling while Rome burns. 

A Children's Bible is allegorical on a number of levels. As the story unfolds, and things become steadily more strange, there are obvious parallels between what happens to the children and the events depicted in the book of children's Bible stories Evie's little brother Jack is reading, and at times they're just as inexplicable. But there's also an obvious ecological point being made here: we live in an environment that previous generations have effectively destroyed for the next, ignoring the future impact on the planet and leaving their children to deal with it when they're gone. When the children meet some adults for whom they do have some affection and respect, they happen to be from a small group who happen to be environmentally conscious and who, at least, are keen to leave a positive legacy - but what happens to those adults, and at whose hands, is telling. It's also important to note that this isn't a story in which the children are perfect - far from it. They have their own conflicts and cruelties, frequently lack empathy and sometimes they behave irresponsibly too. But they are, at the very least, trying not to turn into their parents.

A Children's Bible is similar in tone and atmosphere to Rumaan Alam's Leave The World Behind. It's satirical in its treatment of America's affluent middle-classes, and it has the same ominous sense of dread hanging over it, a sense of things being out of alignment. There are elements of A Children's Bible that I found more distressing than anything in Alam's novel, and yet I also think it's ultimately much more hopeful. It's title is far more than just a reference to Jack's book: along with the book's precise, careful, slightly old-fashioned language, which gives the story a fable-like quality, the title implies that we're reading about the dawn of a new belief system, and the new morality and civilisation about to grow from it.