Written by: Hanna Jameson
Published by: Viking Books
Synopsis: Jon Keller was on a trip to Switzerland when the world ended. More than anything he wishes he hadn’t ignored his wife Nadia’s last message. Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city, they wait, they survive. Then one day, the body of a girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer…
As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what happens if the killer doesn’t want to be found?
Set in the wake of a nuclear attack on the White House and other key countries around the world, there is an unnerving plausibility to the post-apocalyptic setting of Hanna Jameson’s latest novel, “The Last”. While he is never explicitly mentioned by name, it is clear that this is a post-Trump world – one perhaps where he took things a tweet too far. With her cast of survivors distanced from the devastation in a Swiss hotel in the middle of the forest, they follow the updates through social media – a chilling premonition of how most of us would discover the news of a nuclear attack. Isolating her protagonists from civilisation allows Jameson to heighten the tension, creating an eerie backdrop for her Lord of the Flies-eque examination of post-nuclear survival.
Written as an epistolary novel, told through diary entries, The Last feels reminiscent of World War Z as Jameson’s protagonist Jon Keller attempts to document his investigation into the murder of a young girl against this dystopian backdrop. It creates a greater sense of tension as the story is recorded on a daily basis and the narrator only has knowledge of that past day – creating uncertainty of the future which comes into play midway through the novel where paranoia creeps in and the reader is forced to determine whether Jon is a reliable narrator, or not. The murder mystery angle of the novel provides a fresh take on the typical post-apocalyptic story, and acts as a source of tension as Jon investigates his fellow survivors.
Setting the majority of the novel within an abandoned hotel creates an unsettling tone, turning a place that is typically full of life and activity into a silent, derelict area. Cut off from the world in a remote hotel, The Last naturally invites comparisons to The Shining and it certainly plays into those similarities at times, hinting at supernatural activities and a history of violence behind the inoffensive décor of the hotel. It is an evocative location as the reader can relate to that disconcerting feeling of being stranded and forced to stay in a hotel longer than anticipated.
While most people equate post-apocalyptic fiction with action, The Last instead focuses on the relationships between its survivors, dwelling on the tension and gritty realism of its scenario as conflict arises amongst the group. This isn’t Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – there is a bland normality to Jameson’s end of the world that makes it seem all the more real and frightening. The mysteries at the heart of the novel are extremely compelling, but ultimately the final reveal was somewhat lacking – with little explanation given, and it felt like it deserved more space dedicated to that particular section. Jameson flirts with supernatural themes in the book, but leaves things ambiguous towards the end, which felt more frustrating than thought-provoking.
Where Jameson really succeeds is in establishing tone, through her strong characterisation of her protagonist and his attempts to come to terms with what he has lost, and his need for a project to keep his mind occupied. With the popularity of TV shows such as The Walking Dead, The Last Man on Earth and The 100, it is difficult for a post-apocalyptic story to carve a unique identity for itself, but The Last manages to stand out from the crowd – both through its eclectic mix of genres and its fresh approach to clichés. For example, the supply run into the local supermarket is handled perfectly and feels fresh and exciting as opposed to retreading familiar ground. By sparingly making use of violence, those moments when it occurs are far more dramatic and traumatising – again, distinguishing the novel from others in the same genre.
Brutally realistic and chilling to the bone, The Last is a curious blend of dystopian fiction and murder mystery, riffing on the works of authors as diverse as Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Max Brooks. Readers wanting a fresh approach to post-apocalyptic fiction should definitely check out this novel for a terrifying glimpse into a possible future that lies just one bad tweet away.