Book Review: The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
By Brian BandellFebruary 4, 2020
In his new dystopian novel, The Last Day, Andrew Hunter Murray explores a question we all wonder: What happens on the day the earth stands still?
Andrew Hunter Murray took an idea that sounds simple – the world stops turning – and spun it into a gripping novel about those with power and sunlight on their side keeping everyone else in the dark in The Last Day.
It’s a fun conversation to have over a pint; what would happen if the world stopped spinning? In his debut novel, Andrew Hunter Murray, who works on the BBC show QI and co-hosts the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish, fully flushes out this premise. He describes it not only scientifically, but how the harsh Darwinism of society would deal with it. The Last Day also unravels a mystery, as the last major government in the world is hiding something from its citizens.
The novel is set 30 years after “the Slow”, the gradual slowing of the Earth’s rotation that ended with one side of the planet locked facing the sun, and the other side in permanent darkness. An entire generation has grown up never seeing a sunset. The dark side of the globe, including North America, is freezing and experienced a massive loss of life. The areas in peak sunlight, covering Western Europe and Africa, have life-threatening heat and rapidly spreading deserts. The most habitable zones are in a state of perpetual dawn or dust, and that includes the United Kingdom. It’s the world’s last great empire, but even the UK is struggling to feed its citizens and the few refugees who arrived.
A scientist on an ocean rig, Ellen Hopper has close encounters with the millions of refugees who didn’t make it. Her crew scavenges ships of corpses left adrift after the government of the U.K. sunk a massive number of vessels off its coast to create a barrier – an underwater wall. Hopper’s mother was lost on a ship returning from France, and that haunts her every time she boards one of these ghastly vessels.
With thousands of refugees dying at sea every year in modern times trying to reach their destinations, it’s not a stretch to believe a leader would behave this way.
One day, two government officials fly to her rig on a helicopter and demand Hopper return to London to visit Edward Thorne, her former college professor, on his death bed. Thorne was once a close confidant of Davenport, the U.K.’s authoritarian leader, but something caused a rift that exiled him to Oxford University. Thorne has been trying to reach his former understudy with important information, but Hopper wants nothing to do with him after their relationship ended badly.
Thorne leaves Hopper a clue before he dies. She can’t help herself, even though authorities are clearly shadowing her all over London. She must choose between keeping her career and her freedom or pursuing a secret that could turn the tables on Davenport’s government. The U.K. leader has a proposal for the remaining refugees from the United States: food for the last U.S. atomic weapons.
Hopper is smart and relentless, but she can’t overpower the brutes the government sends after her.
The men were lingering a little way down the road. The taller one stood scuffing the ground, smoking. The shorter, balder one gazed abstractedly back toward the café. She could see a little curl of smoke from the taller one’s cigarette. They weren’t bothering to hide.
Panic flooded her. She picked up her bag and, not knowing quite what she was doing, walked slowly out of the café, toward the men – as though by keeping to her original route she might deflect their attention. They moved off, ambling ahead of her, occasionally looking back. She kept moving. They must know she had noticed them. Their proximity was almost insulting.
She was nearly at the bus stop. Would they stop there? Would they get the same bus?
Hooper’s only ally in London is David Gamble, her ex-husband and an editor at a newspaper that has become mostly government propaganda. That creates a side story of rekindling their relationship and pondering whether it’s responsible to bring children into a slowly dying world.
Hunter Murray does a suburb job of creating the neglected London of the future, with hunger and hopelessness ravaging the population. The world will never return to what it was before, but people like Hooper strive to make it a better place for the survivors.
This post-apocalyptic series has plenty of daylight left to continue.