THE LAST DAY / AUTHOR: ANDREW HUNTER MURRAY / PUBLISHER: HUTCHINSON / RELEASE DATE: 6TH FEBRUARY
The world is on the edge of collapse. Its rotation has stopped and half the world is either freezing or uninhabitable due to extreme heat. England’s temperate climate and its position has turned into it an oasis in a world which is either frozen or boiling hot but the country’s Government has had to take harsh and desperate measures to protect its borders and the interests of its population, offering shelter and solace only to those who can bring something useful to a new society teetering on the brink of extinction.
Dr Hopper works on a rig out on the heavily-barricaded English Channel, conducting research on alternative sources of energy and oxygen as the planet staggers towards an inevitable oblivion. She’s suddenly visited by two stony-faced Government officials who whisk her back to the mainland and the deathbed of Dr Thorne, her Oxford University mentor, who needs to speak to her urgently before he succumbs to cancer. Hopper, alone and largely friendless in a cold and unwelcoming London, finds herself drawn into a strange conspiracy where the stakes might well involve the entire future of the human race or determine if it even has a future.
Murray (a writer and researcher for BBC2’s QI, no less), has written a grim and uncomfortable tale full of secrets and lies, shadowy figures lurking on street corners, conspirators vanishing in the night and totalitarian Governments policed by brutal paramilitary thugs. Readers of Len Deighton’s SS-GB might recognise the world Murray has fashioned here, a world which has lost much of the technology we take for granted and has fallen back towards the 1950s. Murray’s London is cold and austere, food is scarce, most newspapers have been closed down (those that remain are fussy and old-fashioned and their content is dictated by the Government), road travel is the exception rather than the rule and the whole books reeks of a world which is regressing as it starts to wind down. It’s a hugely atmospheric novel powered by character rather than incident as Hopper is drawn deeper into a world she doesn’t understand and doesn’t really want to be part of and, as she gets nearer the truth, she finds herself in ever greater danger.
The odd punch-up and a dramatic climactic gunfight aside, this isn’t an adventure story and Murray often allows himself to be distracted by his fascination for the end of days he’s created. He often goes off at tangents to explain some background to his world, some new facet of the Apocalypse, some extra hardship suffered by humanity - it’s all interesting colour and detail but it does tend to bring the story to a dead stop from time to time (appropriately enough, perhaps, considering what’s happened to the world) and, bearing in mind that it’s not exactly a high octane read, it does make the reading a bit of a chore from time to time.
But this is undoubtedly a thoughtful, considered novel that ultimately offers a ray of hope for the human race despite its colourless, ravaged world and the sense of tired despair displayed by many of its characters. An interesting and sometimes hard-hitting and disturbing entry into the ‘dystopian fiction’ canon, TV and film rights for The Last Day have apparently been snapped up - this has got “four-part BBC Sunday night thriller” written all over it. Recommended.