The Last intrigued me when it came out in hardback last year, but I never got around to picking it up. The paperback was released here in the UK, just before I went on holiday, so I bought a copy to take with me. I devoured it in a couple of days. The Last reads like Station Eleven crossed with The Shining. It’s a thoughtful book that captivates throughout. Here are 5 reasons why you should read it.
1. The Premise
There haven’t been many better premises for a book. It’s the end of the world; nuclear devices have been launched across the globe. At a remote hotel in Switzerland, far from radiation and explosions are a group of survivors. Many of the guests fled, hoping to get home or back to their loved ones. A group of 20 or so have remained. How will their isolation affect them? What will they eat? What’s happened to the outside world? Who will come for them? All interesting questions. More so, however, is the one that rears its head shortly into the novel. Which one of them is a murderer?
2. The Hooks
The Last sinks its hooks into the reader and refuses to let go. The chapters are comparatively short but Hanna Jameson knows how to keep the pace going. The story is filled with little revelations that keep you interested. There are lots of secrets in this book waiting to be divulged!
3. The Sense of Menace
There are several levels of menace in The Last. Firstly, there’s the hotel. It’s up in the mountains, winter is approaching. Whilst the hotel was well stocked and has a generator, food and warmth aren’t going to last forever. There is a clock ticking for all of the hotel’s remaining inhabitants. How will this resolve itself?
Added to that, there is the dead body that turns up. Whodunnit and will they be discovered? How will that discovery play out? The novel’s central storyteller is investigating who might be responsible. He is convinced that the murderer is still in the building. As the toll of the isolation and the situation starts to impact on the mental health of the survivors, the narrator’s version events feels increasingly unreliable. This all adds layers of menace to the story.
What is happening to the outside world? As the survivors start to look beyond the hotel, what will they find? The disintegration of society is expertly handled.
4. It’s a Thoughtful Meditation on the End of the World
The Last portrays a quiet apocalypse. Something terrible has happened. How does humanity react? Whilst it is nuclear war that brings about the end of the world, this is not a sensational explosive novel. It only hints at the political conditions that let up the release of the missiles.
Instead, it is more concerned with the mental well-being of its characters. Physically, the hotel provides almost everything they need. But what are the effects of being immediately cut off from the communication and entertainment we currently take for granted? How would we cope with having loved ones on the other side of the globe, with no clue if they have survived, or if they are in pain? Wondering if our children are alone? As a parent, this makes for some hard reading.
The strength of The Last is its human interactions. There is a great variation of humanity left clinging to survival. Guests from all over the world. Staff with very different outlooks on life from the guests and one another. It’s a melting pot under extreme pressure.
5. The Unexpected Dismount
I certainly did not see the twist in the tale coming. It’s very hard to pull off a satisfactory ending for this type of novel, but Jameson pretty much nails it. By taking things in an unexpected direction, she avoids some of the obvious pitfalls, like making the ending unrelentingly bleak or tying up everything with a neat bow.
Often with thrillers such as this, there are so many possible outcomes that when everything collapses to one choice, it feels disappointing. No such problem here. I was riveted to the very last page, and even the very last sentence contains a little reveal that I didn’t know I needed. There was one part, which made go, “Huh?’ and I’m still not sure how I feel about that, but the culmination of the story of our narrator is nigh on pitch-perfect.
The Last is a thoughtful apocalypse novel based on a fantastic premise. It’s an enthralling suspense novel, that not only entertains with its central mystery but tells us something about the human condition too.
If you enjoyed this review do check out my other 5 reasons reviews.