The Last by Hanna Jameson

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The Last by Hanna Jameson

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sophie Diamond
Reviewed by Sophie Diamond
Summary: Incredible. The Last is eerie, intelligent and thought provoking. A very, very accomplished thought experiment about the worst happening and it's so worrying it's something I would highly recommend everyone read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: January 2019
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241349175

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Jon Keller is in a hotel in Switzerland in the remote countryside when the world ends. He has no idea if his family is alive, he has no idea what's going on in the nearest city, or if the nearest city has been obliterated. Shocked, amid the mass hysteria and exodus, Jon decides to stay at the hotel rather than attempt to get to the airport and home. He's not alone, twenty other people also stay and gradually form a small community. One day, when helping the hotel manager, Jon finds the body of a girl deemed to have been killed before the world ended. The community descends into a deep mistrust as Jon becomes fixated on finding this girl's killer and finding the truth about what is possibly the last community on earth.

This book is brilliant. It's not an easy or comfortable read but it is masterful. Jameson creates a sickening tension that lasts pretty much the full length of the book, so that when you've read it (or in my case, raced to finish the last 250 pages in one sitting), you feel like you need to take a deep breath and a sigh of relief. I feel like dystopian fiction is a genre which has been done to death but this book has something new and intelligent to offer. In someways, it reads very much like a thought experiment, if the world was to end tomorrow then first it would … and actually, I think she's right on the money, it's exactly how I would expect it to go. It's so current and topical and I think that's one of the refreshing things about this book as opposed to the cannon, we're not looking at a distant future or alternate reality, it's discussing what would happen to us right now, this year, this month, this minute.

The book is written as a series of journal entries from Jon Keller, our main protagonist, as he tries to document the end of the world. (An academic even at the end). He is a really unreliable and flawed narrator by his own admission, and we read the situation not only through his perspective, and what he remembers, but by the way he feels about it. I think this is really important and clever, because it focusses the narrative. Any sort of dystopia invites you to think about everything which could be going on all over the globe, but by narrowing this down to what Jon sees and knows and feels, Jameson keeps the reader very present. The other valuable structure this book has, is the arc of Jon trying to discover the girl's identity and her murderer. It allows Jameson to tell you everyone's story and for you to get to know the others in the hotel, what they were doing in Switzerland and why they didn't leave. It also raises questions about morality, whether it's something which is innate or something which society has constructed, and when society has crumbled, does it matter? Especially when the world has just been very clearly divided into before and after.

The small society of the hotel is also very interesting. There are people of different genders, races, nationalities, ages and all of these issues are addressed. Jon and one other resident are Americans, and there is a bubbling resentment from other nationalities who think their government did this. No parties or government officials are named but it's another blinding parallel to now. Because the hotel is left with a variety of nationalities, it made me wonder if every country would handle something like this differently or would base human instinct take over? I still can't decide. As I said, this is a very intelligent book, but it is in no way too high brow or inaccessible. It's enjoyable, well written, engaging, thought provoking and there is SO MUCH GOING ON. It's a superb example of incredible popular fiction for everyone.

On a different note, parts of this book did remind me a lot of the walking dead, just without the Zombies. It's the survival aspect I think, and the unease caused by strangers, even in a community who in other circumstances would never be natural allies, there is still a great fear and suspicion of anything other to them. And although this is in no way a horror (or whatever we're now classifying Zombies as), there is a very very large spiritual element to it. Parts of it were unexpectedly chilling and actually kept me awake thinking about them. If you are easily frightened, I wouldn't read this before bed.

I feel like I could write a novel dissecting this novel, so I'm going to stop here. This is an incredible book, it's so human and relevant and intelligent. It is perfect for A levels and university seminars and book groups because this is a book which was written to be spoken about. It tells it's own story perfectly but leaves you thinking a lot about the present… and that's probably the scariest part.

Thank you to the bookbag and the publisher for my advance copy.

If you like this, I would recommend The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker

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