Penguin Random House - Viking
As seen on most of the apocalyptic stories published in the last few years, ‘The Last’ starts at the same time the disaster happens. The countdown to the known world speed up and the characters in the story will have to survive nonetheless. And despite themselves.
This initial event use to have different interpretations depending on writer’s origins or concerns. An infection expanding around the world is quite common as seen on a never ending list of zombie tales published in the last decade. There are also some authors who have opted for an alien invasion or an increase on the sea water level. In this case we also have one of the clichés on catastrophic literature: a nuclear attack. What if most of the countries decide to attack one each other by using nuclear bombs? What if all network is lost and you lose track of what is going on far from what you can see with your own eyes?
Hanna Jameson locates the novel in Switzerland, where Jon Keller is attending a business event in a hotel far from civilization. While having breakfast, news about nuclear bombs falling in the main cities – London, Washington, etc, start to appear on television and mobile devices. Soon the network stop working and ignorance spreads out into the people left in the hotel. Uncertainty increases when Jon finds a little girl corpse in a water tank on the roof. During the first few days without updates from out there some of the clients try to escape from the hotel, searching for an exit to an unknown technological isolation. No further news come from those ‘brave’ ones.
‘The Last’ has an attractive structure at the beginning in order to engage with you from the very first page. It is written as a diary where Jon Keller himself starts writing very short chapters, with very few information about what is happening. He does not know how long this situation will last so he draft most of this parts. And we, as reader, will feel what is being in a desperate condition. Therefore, the first third of the book will be read in a sigh.
From day 50 after the initial event, Jon Keller takes more time to explain what is going on. Chapters are transformed into more detailed explanation of the events happening in the hotel. This allows the reader to know much more about the 20 people remaining in the hotel in a better way. A mix of origins, religions, political behaviours and points of view which is difficult to put together in order to agree some difficult decisions. Somehow it reminded me to ‘The Fireman’, written by Joe Hill. The good news is that Jameson does not waste hundreds of pages on this matter.
Clue by clue, Jon tries to figure out who is the killer of the girl body found in the roof. At the same time, the people start wondering about the world out there. There are no news, no mean of communication, no network. And not all the people handle this in the same way. In this tense time is when the worst of each individual comes up: political quarrels, religions, etc. In this sense, ‘The Last’ is a very up to date novel. The pace is slower than usual, focused on the people remaining in the hotel rather than explaining how they are going to survive. Other worries – like food or water, are hidden or not so present. Or, at least, not until almost the end.
One of the problems I found while Reading ‘The Last’ is the fact that the dead body found at the beginning of the plot is not so relevant at the end. Although it promised to be the key element in the story, it is not. While most of the individuals in the hotel does not care about finding the killer but surviving, Jon Keller himself sometimes feel in the same way for a long part of the book. In addition, the solution to the main plot in the novel is explained in a handful of pages just at the end of the volume, which feels a bit hasty and unbelievable at some point. Just wondering if it is because Hanna was really looking for this or because of Jon, sometimes an unreliable narrator.
However, I have to recognize that I could not stop reading the novel until the end. The way she treats the isolations of this characters really took my attention. The book is not very long – just 400 pages with big letter size, but I can´t recommend it to experienced readers of ‘end of the world’ or mystery novels as you will feel it does not fill enough any of those. However, I can say that this novel has a wider audience that can really enjoy it and is a highly recommended read for all of them as it will catch you from the very beginning.