What if our 24 hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day became night and night became day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on a family and a young girl, who is already coping with the normal disasters of everyday life?
Told through Julia’s eyes, this beautiful and original novel shows how easily life can fragment, within a family, within a community, and on a far wider plane, when the rhythm of life as we know it is knocked so unexpectedly out of kilter. Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning debut.
The Age of Miracles is a remarkable and beautiful debut novel, gripping from the very first page and incredibly unsettling the entire way through. The very first line –
‘‘We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumour blooming beneath skin.’’
– sets up a world that is simultaneously uncomfortably similar and yet utterly unlike our own, a world in which nightmares do not leap out and overwhelm you, instead choosing to creep ever closer, day by day, enshrouded so much in normality that you don’t recognise them until it’s too late. The nightmare in this book is change and unfamiliarity; and the devastating effects they can have on the world, and on communities and families in it, as people try desperately to live inside a reality they no longer understand or control.
The story is told through the eyes of Julia, a teenage girl who witnesses her own family slowly tear itself apart, the catalyst being the horror of waking up one day to discover that the planet is no longer obeying its own laws. The rotation of the Earth has begun to slow and continues to do so by up to an hour each day; gravity becomes stronger, magnetic fields lose their charge, the environment is thrown into disarray, seasons are upside down, and people get sick. The atmosphere becomes too weak to shield humanity from the ever increasing power of the suns rays, and one by one, species start to die out.
Adjusting to this ‘new normal’ is impossible when it refuses to stay stable long enough to get used to. Julia sees her mother and best friend fall ill, her parents’ marriage fall apart, her neighbourhood go to war with itself, and her grandfather fight his own psychological demons. Politics and leaderships fail. All of this and other finer details are narrated by Julia in a way that is neither over emotional nor scaremongering – The Age of Miracles is not an in-your-face disaster portrayal like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 movie’s were; instead Thompson Walker uses gentle, graceful prose combined with wisdom and a compassion for childlike innocence and normality that go a long way in creating an emotional connection between the reader’s world and Julia’s world.
The Age of Miracles is quietly shocking, steadily convincing and exceptionally tender. Characters are dynamic and interesting, each choosing their own way of dealing with their altered reality so that it’s almost impossible not to identify with a least one of them. The completely average suburban setting is familiar to a wide audience, and Julia’s life as a teenager instantly relatable to anyone who has lived through such formative years. There is nothing that sticks out in this book as controversial or unfitting, rather every chapter has been clearly thought out, carefully written and wonderfully told. To tackle such a huge catastrophe in such a gentle way is both genius and unnerving; and undeniably different to any tales from a similar genre. It’s unorthodox, but it works – the expected end of the world coming not with a bang but with a drawn out, beautifully expressed whimper. Whether the world does end or not, realistically or metaphorically, would be too big of a spoiler to give away, as the ending itself is almost heartbreaking in its perfection – I’m felt a real connection to Julia all throughout the novel, and was not surprised to find myself in tears when I read through ‘her’ final chapter.
There isn’t any in-depth scientific explanation or iteration of why the Earths rotation began slowing, or of its multiple effects, but to be honest I felt that they weren’t really needed – this book was more of an emotional representation of humanity of the edge of survival, and besides, over-complex information coming from the mouth of a young teenager would have removed from Julia’s credibility as narrator.
I’ve seen this book reviewed as ‘a cross between Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones and Lars Van Trier’s film Melancholia, and having read/watched both, I can verify this is an extremely apt description of the ‘mood’ of the narrative. Creepy, dystopian, majestic and elegant, The Age of Miracles is an absolutely stunning debut novel and one that holds incredible promise for the future of Karen Thompson Walker as a sci-fi/speculative fiction author.
This was one of my favourite books of 2012, and one I will definitely be recommending people add to their Christmas List. I love it when a book can genuinely surprise me and leave me wishing it never ended. This one fit both of those criteria, and did so exceptionally well. I urge you, if you only plan on reading one book this upcoming holiday – read this.
The Age of Miracles was published by Simon & Schuster in July 2012 and is available to buy in hardback edition or eformat from Amazon and most other high street book retailers.