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BOOK REVIEW: The Last by Hanna Jameson

| 29 August 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Penguin | Viking
February 2019
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction / Mystery / Dystopia

65% Rocking

The Last

For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war—along with twenty other survivors—who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel’s water tanks.

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the L’Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

This book has been praised as a cross between Stephen King and Agatha Christie, and it has been suggested for fans of The Girl With All the Gifts and Annihilation. While there are some similarities between these, for this reader the closest comparison is probably Station Eleven, and as someone who was disappointed in that very popular and raved about title, this is probably not the best sign. But for readers and lovers of Station ElevenThe Last is bound to appeal.

The Last delivers a somewhat paranoid and claustrophobic tale of the end of the world which will have readers devouring the pages.

I wonder if the bombing is still going on, whether one will hit us soon. Maybe it would be for the best. It’s the not knowing that I can’t stand.
Today was the first day I realized that I’m probably never going to see Nadia, Ruth or Marion again. Or my dad and his wife, my students, my friends. Even the people I knew at the conference have gone. They left.
I feel nauseous. I can’t tell if it’s radiation poisoning or not.

Even though it is often not so fast-paced, and long periods of time seem to go by without much of note, the world- and character-building here are likely to stick with you. The focal point of this story is the group of 24 survivors and how they deal with the likely destruction of everyone else on the planet.

I counted heads this morning in the restaurant and there are twenty-four of us. There are at least two young children, and an elderly couple, one of whom can’t hear.
Is this it? I mean, for humanity. Am I the last person alive making notes on the end of the world? I’m not sure if I would rather already be dead.

And the kind of discussions people might have when the old world is gone and they have to make up new rules as they go.

‘But the whole future-of-the-planet thing, that’s a real question. Hypothetically, what do we do if the human race is gonna die out and none of the women want to have babies? It’s a question! I’m just asking the question out loud!’
‘Well, maybe keep it to yourself, yeah,’ Adam said quietly. ‘Sounds really rapey.’

I admired that he’d had the guts to say it. No one else wanted to, though it had been hanging over the room since we started talking. As soon as we knew a crime had been committed, the first thought was Do we kill him? because with resources scarce, and getting scarcer, it was the only pragmatic course of action.

There were elements of otherness which didn’t really go where I was hoping

‘I had Tomi over the other day, think we were actually about to throw-down, and then suddenly she sat up, and you know what she said?’
‘She asked if we could go to her room instead, because she thought she saw something in the corner of my room.’

And friendship and humour, though it is given sparingly.

‘I’m not really good at anything but … well, I asked Dylan to bring me back my guitar, maybe I can be the town … what do you call it?’
‘Troubadour,’ Rob said.
‘Yeah, that.’
‘More like town asshole,’ I said.
‘That too, to be honest.’
‘No one likes the person who brings a guitar to a party,’ Rob added.
‘But I can play “Wonderwall” and everything!’
‘Why do you have to ruin a nice thing for everyone, Adam?’ I sighed.

The murder of the girl is pursued, but it’s not really the focal point of the story it might seem to be. It’s a way to put Jon in the position to question and document the goings on with his fellow survivors, and it gives him something to work towards, but the smaller-than-expected part it plays stops this title from being a mystery in the strictest sense.

Jameson definitely has skill, and I will be looking out for more of her work in the future, but it doesn’t shoot right to the top of the pile for this reader. If you rate Station Eleven highly, your mileage will likely vary in favour of this one.



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