I was all set to close the book (cough) on 2018; I had finished up the Peter Grant series in a very satisfactory way, was finishing up a couple other books, and was hoping to actually complete reviews for the books read, all in the same year–I know, I know. Foolish. Then I saw Robert’s review and the words ‘apocalypse’ and ‘mystery’ instantly jumped out. You could not have tempted me more with dark chocolate sea salt caramels. And wouldn’t you know it? Last was just as satisfying, a great mix of emotions and flavors.
It starts off quickly; no building of suspense, wondering when the end of the world will happen, letting our hapless characters wander around as we all get our bearings. It has happened; Jon, the narrator, begins the story three days after the news breaks. An American tucked away in Switzerland for a conference, and he and his colleagues have been routed to a somewhat isolated hotel. I hesitate to say much more; suffice to say that it unfolds quickly and seems very plausible. It combines the best of the apocalypse: a quick disaster, a prolonged sense of aftermath, the opportunity to explore self, meaning, and society, all done with solid writing.
“A lot of people confuse movement with progress,’ Dylan said. ‘I knew it was a bad idea but what were we gonna do, barricade them in? They weren’t ready to face any kind of truth.’ I leaned against the wall of the stairwell as Dylan got out his set of keys. The air in here was too thick, full of dust and last breaths. It stank. I hated the stairwell but of course the elevators weren’t working anymore; hadn’t worked for two months, not since that first day.”
I can think of a handful of books that this would compare to, and it’s no surprise that the publisher draws analogies to The Last Policeman and Station Eleven. I think that for many, however, this will be an improvement on both of those. Less bucolic and with a stronger narrative than Station Eleven,there is a definite atmosphere of fearfulness and psychological stress. Will these survivors break down? Like an inverse horror movie with the demons from within, how will they cope? Similar to The Last Policeman, the narrator is struggling with his own reactions and trauma response; though aware he is doing so, he’s not exactly doing so with great success. But he reflects and engages, and it provides interesting food for thought.
“I figure I should keep writing things down. The clouds are a strange color, but I’m not sure if that’s just me being in shock. They could be normal clouds.”
I will agree with Robert, one of the reviews that lead me to this book; the ending did feel rushed. Of course, for me, endings often feel rushed with suspense novels, as I’m speed-reading, trying to discover the resolution and relieve the tension. I’ll go so far as to say it’s a little Tana-French-ish in that the story is more about the psychological journey of the characters and less about the mystery. It is an intriguing ending, but yes; it does try to do too much too quickly, given the pacing of the middle.
Last but random note: one of the few end-of-the-world novels that integrates more than then an average white American in it.
Still, it was a fabulous way to end my 2018 reads. Definitely left me with a book-hangover. Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the advance reader copy. The quotes, of course, are subject to change in the final writing, but I do think that Jameson’s style is one of the aspects that sets this above your average mystery or end of the world, and should be appreciated.
Four and a half cloudy stars