Customer Review

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse for slow learners, 13 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Age of Miracles (Hardcover)
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The Age of Miracles is a book of ideas. Many of those ideas bear more than a passing resemblance to the far superior Testament Of Jessie Lamb, longlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize.

We find a teenage girl, Julia, coming into adulthood against a backdrop of a slowly unfolding apocalypse. The world's rotation is slowing day by day: days and nights are becoming longer and there's nothing anyone can do about it. This is an interesting premise, all the more so for the absence of giant tidal waves heading for the Californian coast whilst the American emergency services undertake a massive relocation exercise under the personal direction of the president.

So, as noted above, there are parallels with Jane Rogers's 2011 The Testament of Jessie Lamb. Both novels feature a teenage girl coming to growing awareness of her body, love and paternal betrayal (and both fathers were doctors). Both novels portray an impending apocalypse that people variously try to ignore or adapt to - with the focus very much on maintaining the standard of living for as long as possible, even if it is bound to end in ruins. But The Testament Of Jessie Lamb really elevated itself into serious literature by providing a clear parallel between the dystopian world of the novel and real world issues - particularly how far one generation should feel obliged to sacrifice itself for a future generation. The Age Of Miracles doesn't have this added level. The world is ending and there is nothing anyone can do. The focus is only on survival and immediate gratification with a particular focus on telling us about the workarounds and the nuclear bunkers filled with tinned food.

The characterisation in The Age Of Miracles is rather thin. Because so much of the focus is on telling the reader what happened rather than why or how it makes people feel, even Julia feels thin. The other characters, Seth, Sylvia, Hanna and all just feel really cartoonish. A standard boyfriend; a standard hippy piano teacher; a standard best friend; a standard prom queen; etc. They serve a purpose and allow Julia to vent her thoughts, but they never feel real and never really give any vent for true emotion.

There are also some really irritating tics in The Age Of Miracles. In particular, the heavy handed prolepsis (telegraphing) grates. We don't need to know that this was the last time Julia tasted pineapple or the last time for many months that she would see Hanna. This feels like a writer who has no confidence in her story telling ability to hold the interest of the reader - hence a need to telegraph that things will get more exciting soon enough. Is this a sign that the novel was aimed at a young adult audience.

For all the failings, the novel does have an interesting idea at its core and Karen Thompson Walker does give a good account of the incremental nature of the doom that awaits mankind. First the difficulties in working the mechanics of timetables; then the plight of the birds; then the failing crops. Not sure about the science behind any of it but it did hold the reader's interest. There is a clear narrative drive and the ending, when it comes, is surprisingly powerful. It's a quick and straightforward read, albeit one that might have been pitched incorrectly towards adults. The book might be entertaining for young adults, but I fear it will only seem profound to slow learners.
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Initial post: 15 Jun 2012 08:11:04 BDT
D. Harris says:
I think this is quite a shrewd review, thanks. I haven't read "The Testament..." - too much else to read! - and it's interesting to see the similarity. (There is a review of it on The Guardian website, in the comments below which a number of other parallels are noted - the idea of the Earth slowing down is hardly original.)
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