The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
Hutchinson, HB, £12.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Forty years in the future, the world’s rotation has stopped with half the world in burning heat, the other in absolute darkness and cold, and a slim band of the world with the right amount of sunlight to still grow crops. Liveable land is at a premium, people will stop at nothing to find safety, while others will do everything to keep them out. Doctor Ellen Hopper is a scientist living on an old oil rig, studying the oceans to understand their potential as a continuing food source. But she is called back to Britain, one of the lucky few countries in the band of neither too much sun nor too much night because her old mentor is dying. With his last breath, he sends her, albeit reluctantly, on the path to a truth which has been kept since the world stopped and uncovering it will change everything.
The story is told solely through Hopper’s voice, with two strands, one in the now which charts her journey through a post-apocalyptic London filled with fear and suspicion of outsiders, and the other her relationship with her mentor from one of almost worship on her part, to rejection. Both strands are well-paced with enough secrets and reveals in each to keep the reader turning the page. I certainly stayed up far too late more than once so I could finish one more chapter.
I appreciated the grim portrayal of the UK. Already isolated, many measures were put in place to keep anyone trying to get there out, most of them deadly in their efficiency. As Hopper has spent much of her time onboard the oil rig, she has missed the change of her home from a welcoming place, to one where there is no sympathy for outsiders, so her horror is our horror as starving people who have committed some minor misdemeanour, are sent to ‘the breadbasket’; a forced labour camp on Britain-held Europe which provides all the food for the survivors. It struck a chord with me as I felt that the suspicion in Hunter-Murray’s London is a little too like some of the rhetoric we faced (and still are) with Brexit.
This is less a story about the world stopping, and more about how those left alive deal with their situation. Do we become altruistic, ready to help any who ask or do web become inward, thinking only of our survival? As with all good stories, the protagonists’ actions are morally dubious while their motivations are reasonable. There were times I found myself in the uncomfortable position of understanding, if not agreeing, with their actions. Part climate-change apocalypse, part political drama, The Last Day is a thrilling page turn with a satisfying ending and a strong, believable set-up for a sequel.