The Message in the Bottle

"Notes for a Novel About the End of the World"

"A Novel About the End of the World" makes a striking counterpart to Percy's novel Love in the Ruins, subtitled "The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World" and published only four years after the essay. The apocalyptic novel is a form of prophecy, a warning about what will happen if society does not change its ways. This sort of novel is written by a particular type of novelist, one defined not by his quality but by his goals. Percy refers to this novelist as a "religious novelist" but notes that he includes atheists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in this category because of their "passionate conviction about man's nature, the world, and man's obligation in the world" (103).

The religious novelist, says Percy, has very different concerns than the mainstream of the society in which he lives—so different, in fact, one must decide whether society is blind or whether the novelist is insane or a charlatan. The central difference between the novelist and the rest of society is that the former tends to be pessimistic and the latter tends to be optimistic. The novelist has a "profound disquiet" (106).

The novelist is set off in particular against the scientist and against the "new theologian"—from the former because the novelists insists on the individual while science measures only categories, and from the latter because the novelist still believes in original sin. The Christian novelist in particular recognizes that the problem is not that Christianity is not relevant to modern society but that man's blind acceptance of "the magical aura of science, whose credentials he accepts for all sectors of reality" (113) is changing his consciousness to the point where he can no longer recognize the Gospel.

The novel about the end of the world, then, is an attempt to shock the complacent reader out of his scientism and into the light of the real world.

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