Review: The Last Day
A potentially fascinating last day but becomes a really long day!
Dystopia seems to have become the new hot genre, like Fantasy was between the 1990s and late 2000s . And while one can argue that dystopia is possibly a subset of fantasy, the plethora of books predicting a future diametrically opposite to the ones we’re all working for is definitely more morose than a Harry Potter saving the wizarding world. (Side note: is this a reflection on society in general?)
The Last Day is another addition to the dystopia shelves in libraries and bookstores. Much like every other work in the genre, there exists a central problem which is the root of humanity’s downfall. In the case of this book, the world has gone to sh*t because the Earth has stopped rotating. What started off as a slowdown, progressed into a complete stop of the Earth’s rotation. Now half the world in plunged into darkness while the other is in perennial light. Britain is in the sweet spot of sunlight which is perfect for life and agriculture and that is where the story is set. The protagonist, Ellen Hopper, at the centre of things lives on a rig off the coast of Britain and is called back to London to fulfil her dying professor’s last wish of seeing her. But all is not what is seems.
Let me just say this: I loved the concept of it! I picked this book up because the concept just blew my mind. Unlike usual dystopia where the impact of the problem statement is usually economic and socio-political, this concept opens up something new: geography. The possible impact of geography on culture, politics and day to day life even, blew my mind personally. Often times, geography is taken for granted in the large scheme of things in dystopia. It becomes more of a footnote rather than a driver. I’ve not seen geography and science used in world building like it is in this book. It builds a convincing world where you can imagine that its constantly light and you need thick curtains to get any form of sleep.
Keeping in mind how well this book builds its world and the usual trend of such fantastical books turning into series, I’m going to look at it from two lens: as a first book in a series and as a standalone work of fiction.
As the first book in a series
I am unsure if Andrew Murray intends to turn this into a series, but if he does then as a first book, The Last Day builds a world where you’d be interested enough to read more. The plot per se doesn’t have enough meat but it has a fair amount of potential for the future and so if it were to be a series it could possibly work. You’d even be inclined to ignore some of the glaring issues that this book faces simply because there is a chance that the second book could give you a deeper dive into the characters.
As a standalone book
If The Last Day is the only book set in 2059 and there will be no continuation to this world whatsoever, then I have to say the book is strictly average at best.
Here’s the thing: often times when you write dystopia, the balance between taking the time to build a convincing world and a convincing plot is delicate. One may become overindulgent with the story and completely ignore the setting. The other risk is painting too rich a setting that the story takes a complete backseat. This book is the latter.
Like I said, Andrew Murray’s London in 2059 is convincing. But The Last Day spends far too much time convincing you of its reality by building a world in the throes of sunlight. The first few times it does so, it is fascinating. You’re explained the implications of the event. You get to know which countries made the cut and which didn’t (if you’re a geography person, you might enjoy that piece a lot). However, after some point in the first 7–8 chapters it starts to feel like a drag.
Since it is set in London with a protagonist who has seen life during the Slow and now during the Stop, the book indulges in a lot of back and forth to contrast the drastic change in setting. Excellent vessel to depict the change. The only problem: it is too much. The author has spent pages on pages describing various parts of London in the before and after parallel. And while to a resident of the city it would probably make a lot more sense, as someone who has never been to London, it is exceptionally difficult to build a picture of either avatars in my head. Perhaps if it were set in Mumbai I could do it but not for a city I’ve never been to. And here is where you see the cracks in the author’s approach. The true testimony of world building done right is when you can imagine these scenes and places in your head. They don’t need to be extremely descriptive, they just need to be accessible enough to make the place real to you. The author provides very verbose and factual descriptions, none of which paint images. Quite honestly by the time I had reached half the book, I just glossed over these portions. I think they served as the author’s ode to his love for the city, but personally I’m not sure if this was the book for that.
You’re given context of the politics and the social structures. You realize that jobs have changed and yet stayed the same. All done pretty well. You realise the fear misinformation that is being perpetuated across the country and times. Unfortunately, half this information leads nowhere. There are references to news being used propaganda, but aside from exactly 2 conversations you see it nowhere else. The political structure is just a backdrop. The relationship between Ellen and her dying professor is extremely thin and you’re unsure of why he would even reach out to her, aside from the fact that she’s extremely self-righteous.
The characters are not well fleshed out. Also, whatever you do come to know about the characters, is handed to you on a platter. The writer in trying to make it an easy read, comes down to a fair deal of spoon feeding. Ellen’s personality is unclear, her motivations bleak at best and her evolution into the person you see in the story is a mystery. Some of her relationships are fairly well fleshed out but that’s just about it.
The way the first 100 or so pages build the political landscape of the story, you’re almost certain that this will form the center of the story. This is where the meat should have been. Unfortunately, it’s all a side reference and even the villain is left very unclear. You receive references to a mighty overlord to be overthrown, yet not once do you see the person in the story. The end of the story is deeply unsatisfying. You are definitely left wondering if there is more that you’ve missed. Quite honestly, I was left wondering, did she really save the day? Was there a day to save?
I’d give this a 2.5/5 of which 2 is for the extremely detailed and well-constructed world and 0.5 is because the concept blew my mind. There was just so much potential in this story that it could have been tapped into a wonderful book.