Book #74

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife’s text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he’s waiting in the lobby of the hotel in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That’s all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black—and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange.

Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can’t bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel’s water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl.

As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

You travel halfway across the world for a work conference. You’re in the hotel when news comes through of a nuclear attack in your home country. Telephone lines go down, internet access becomes limited. You have no idea if your family are alive, you don’t know which countries have been blasted into nothing, you are unsure whether you’re safe. The other residents of the hotel are the only people you have, you must build relationships and work out what to do. A terrifying thought, particularly the building relationships with strangers part - yuck.

Jameson gives us the diaries of Jon who is experiencing all of the above. As he navigates his new situation, he describes his feelings and actions whilst also touching on his family life at home. He’s not an entirely likable guy, which led me to wonder whether he was a reliable narrator. I doubted him constantly.

Whilst Jameson describes the isolated group living in this massive, almost empty hotel, there’s a horribly oppressive and spooky aura running through the pages. Places which should normally be bustling, and suddenly aren’t, are one of my guilty fears. The depiction here is perfect to add to the gloom and terror; something isn’t right, and we are stuck in this prison disguised as a safehouse as we try to decide how to survive.

The characterisation of the other inhabitants wasn’t consistent; some I got to know well, some I was unable to recognise as they appeared on the page. This would have been similar to Jon’s experience, as he became close to some and not so much with others, but I would have enjoyed some insight on a couple of characters who I felt were important.

By the end, I really felt as though I’d gone through a lot with these characters, and yet there was no satisfying payoff, no outright conclusion. The ending felt rushed, almost as though it had been suggested by someone else.

A horrific and very possible premise which has made me ask myself the question - would I rather stay alive, side-questing for food and internet access, or would I rather just be blown to bits in the initial attack? Probably a futile question as Jameson made sure Scotland was the first country to dissolve into the sea - thanks for that.