The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This was always going to be a book that caused some sort of debate. For many they will want a Dystopian style novel that deals the nuances of humanity and many others will want what it really is – a coming of age tale set to the backdrop of a catastrophe. Therein lays my problem, I didn’t dislike The Age of Miracles, in fact I enjoyed it, however I kind of fell into the first camp.

As one of the Waterstones 11, this is a novel that has a tremendous amount of backing from the retail sector; it has a lot of weight on its shoulders. The premise of the book is wonderful – suddenly the Earth’s rotation is beginning to slow, daylight hangs for longer and the nights are stretching out. The Age of Miracles sets out to explore what would happen to society in such a disaster – how would our bodies function? How would we grow crops with such long days of darkness?

The thing is these issues are a footnote to the story of an 11 year old girl who is struggling with the angst that comes with adolescence. Yes we watch as the nights drag on for 40 hours and society must drain electricity to run lamps that will grow crops, but we focus also on Julia and her crush on Seth… and her need for a real bra as her body begins to develop.

This is where I have to ask why The Age of Miracles isn’t being promoted as a YA novel as, although it is told with an adult reminiscing, it is clearly the voice of an 11 year old girl. This is where it becomes clear that Julia’s story is paramount and the catastrophe is just background noise. To use a slightly tenuous example this book reminded me of the finale to LOST. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but no questions are answered.

When the catastrophe is at its height, society divides between clock timers – those who still live by the clock despite night and day not reflecting the time – and real timers who live by the sun. Here’s the thing, when the days drag out to over 40 hours I wanted to know if the human body could even survive under such a change to its natural body clock. It felt as if the author had a great story about a girl growing up but needed to make it stand out. There’s no science to explain everything or at least lend some credence to the idea.

I think much of the problem comes from the first person narrative. Without giving away spoilers, there are several plot points that are either not resolved fully or left wide open. This can be explained by saying “well, Julia doesn’t know the inner workings of the people who surround her” but that lets the story down for me. I wanted to know why her Dad did X and why we never heard again about Y. It’s all very tenuous and reaching, the author puts a lot of faith in the reader to fill in the gaps. My final rant would be the ending itself which is so anticlimactic that I was left more annoyed than appeased by the dénouement.

But let’s draw a line under the negatives. I honestly liked much of the story and the way it played out but it was like trying to complete a jigsaw with half of the edge pieces missing. It’s a pacy read and I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know more, I wanted to live in the world for longer. This novel is more about Julia and that’s fine for many of the audience in which will read it. Personally I couldn’t relate enough to Julia to enjoy her story, I wanted something else.

Before writing this review I spoke to many other bloggers on Twitter and even staff in my local Waterstones who brought it to my attention. Some people love it. In fact, Emma my trusty blogging friend adored it to the sum of five stars, whereas Robin wasn’t a fan and Ellie dropped in the middle like me. I have to ponder, is this an ideal book for those who don’t often read ‘end of the world’ stuff and Sci-Fi? Should it be marketed more on the coming of age tale, rather than a dystopian end of world story? There are moments of brilliance and there are plot holes. There are passages that are beautifully written and some which seem amateur. It’s good, but it’s not great.

See, I told you it would cause debate.

Published by Simon and Schuster. This book was kindly sent by the publisher for review.

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