Reading in the Desert

…a bookworm in Dubai

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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The Age of Miracles

Selected for the 2012 Waterstones 11 list of debut fiction and for the Richard & Judy Book Club Summer 2013.

Imagine what would happen if the rotation of the earth slowed down. Days would get longer, nights would too, and the balance of the ecosystems would be thrown out with disastrous results. This is the promising basis for this novel as told through the eyes of 11 year old Californian, Julia.

To begin with this had me hooked. “The Slowing” is a pretty dramatic thing to happen and the story is told in an everyday, suburban setting so you can immediately get into the shoes of the characters and imagine what they are going through. There is mild panic, reliance on the media for (mis)information, and then trying to get on with ordinary life when you realise that not much has changed. And that’s the problem with this book. The author has a great, fantastic, brilliant idea for a novel and then finds that there’s not actually an awful lot to run with. She covers the obvious things – longer days, more sunshine, higher temperatures, followed by long cold nights and there is the intriguing decision whether to carry on living on a 24 hour clock as days and nights lengthen. She also comes up with some rather dubious ones such as birds falling out of the sky due to increased gravity. (I thought gravity was a function of mass and unrelated to the earth’s rotation, but never mind.) And we had an unconvincing attempt at prejudice against people who refused to stick to the 24 hour clock but this seemed a little contrived and things just got repetitive and ran out of steam.

I felt that, with an 11 year old protagonist, the book was neither an adults’ nor a children’s book. I actually think it might have been far better as a children’s novel – just take out the swearing and the extramarital affair – as it would have given a young reader lots to think about. My final issue with this book was the ending. As the earth continues to slow we seem to be at Armageddon. Agriculture and logistics systems have shut down, people have no food, no water and are worn down by the relentless strength of the sun. Mankind is on the brink of extinction. And then, all of a sudden, we fast forward 10 years. How on earth did they survive for another 10 years? That would have made a fascinating novel, mankind battling for survival against all odds. A missed opportunity I fear.

3 stars

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