Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Apocalyptic novels are not usually my thing. But one of my favorite booksellers recommended this to me with the caveat that it was more of a slow, quiet character driven novel than anything. And I'm so glad I gave this novel a chance because it was an unusual and strangely hypnotic look at the transitory nature of life and the importance and strength of connection.

78 year old Augustine is the lone researcher left at an Arctic station. He refused to evacuate with everyone else a year prior, intent on staying to continue his work and to solidify his scientific legacy. He hasn't heard from anyone since refusing transport. It seems as if the whole Earth has gone silent. In fact, he hasn't talked to anyone except a slightly feral young girl named Iris who was apparently left behind during the evacuation by mistake. Now it is only the two of them together in the harsh and unforgiving landscape, left to fend for themselves without any contact with the wider world or any knowledge of what might have happened out there. Iris tethers Augustine to humanity and it is for her sake and her future that he continues to scan for anyone out there with whom to make contact, even as he reflects on his past, knowing that his own future is short.

Sully is an astronaut traveling back to Earth with her colleagues after a mission to Jupiter that lasted two years. She and her colleagues are disturbed and apprehensive when their communications from Earth go silent but they can still hear all of the extraneous space chatter from satellites all over the universe, suggesting the problem is with Earth and not with their ship. The six astronauts have no choice but to continue on towards an unsettling unknown. As they travel onward, Sully has the chance to examine her relationship with her late mother, her ex-husband, and the young daughter she willingly left behind to go on this two year space journey. And as everyone on the ship retreats to deal with their fears over what might have happened on Earth to cause this communications blackout, Sully looks into the very heart of who she and each of her fellow travelers is.

The two narrative threads, one in the heavens above and one firmly planted on Earth, seem unrelated as they go back and forth, existing in parallel, only coming together late in the story. As the story progresses, the reader, like the characters, doesn't have any knowledge of what has happened on Earth, making this a novel of the present and the past with an unknowable future. It is very much a slow smolder of a novel. The vastness of silence reverberates through each scene and situation but even so there remains a strong connection to the idea of something greater than us, to space, to the natural world, to love. There is a powerfully quiet, melancholic feel to the writing as both Sully and Augustine examine their pasts within the quiet desperation of their individual presents. The reader will expect the reveal but the ending remains perfect, veering away from the accustomed to something much more fitting and in keeping with the overall tone of the novel. Dreamlike and introspective, this was not a quick read but its reflections on the importance of relationship, our bonds with others, the uncertainty of the future, and the examination of regret and isolation made it an absorbing read.

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