This is a novel by John Christopher. I reread his Tripods series recently. They’re some of the best Young Adult books I’ve read, and after learning from his biography that he got his start with adult literature I decided to try his first successful novel. The Death of Grass – 1956, published in the US as No Blade of Grass on the grounds that the original title sounded like something from a gardening magazine – is an apocalyptic novel in which a virus decimates global food crops leading to famine and the collapse of civilisation. It was a hit at the time but went out of print, until recently when it was listed as one of the best out-of-print novels published in the UK and subsequently republished.
It’s good. I can see why it was a hit. But it’s also really incredibly grim. Most post-apocalyptic novels and movies like to cleanly kill off most of the population via a third party – virus, zombies etc – so that the characters have a clean start. Those stories are a reaction against modernity and a fantasy about starting again in a simpler, quieter world. Death of Grass is an argument for modernity but also its fragility. As soon as civilisation is challenged it collapses and everyone starts murdering each other for food. Women instantly become chattels. Insufficiently brutal men are executed. It’s horrible.
I can see why the book went out of print. It might be more realistic than the rest of the genre but that only shows that realism isn’t a desirable quality when you’re writing about the apocalypse.