“History is only the sum of its people and, as far as I know, we could be the last ones.”
What would you do if you thought you were part of the last group of surviving humans after a nuclear war breaks out? Jon Keller, the narrator of The Last, decides that one of the most important things to do is keep records of everything that happens.
This may seem strange, but it makes sense once you find out that he is a historian, who was visiting Switzerland for an academic conference. After nuclear war breaks out, he finds himself stranded in a hotel with a number of other guests and staff. With communications down, limited food, and an impending sense of doom, you quickly get the sense that no one is really safe, and anything could happen.
Reading this book is like reading the main character’s diary (although he spends a lot of time telling people that it’s not a diary). He records events on an almost daily basis, including conversations with other survivors who are living in the hotel. While this is an interesting way to present the story, it is somewhat limiting, as you only get glimpses from one point of view. I think the story would have been very different if multiple points of view were included.
The setting of The Last is inherently creepy. I mean, a nuclear war broke out and no one knows what’s going on. Plus, all of the characters are confined to a remote hotel, which you later find out is believed to be haunted. One of the characters had been compiling a history of the hotel before the war broke out, and found that it had quite the backstory: it had numerous sketchy, almost untraceable owners, at one point housed a serial killer, and many guests had reported strange sightings over the years.
To shake things up even more, after a few weeks, Jon and a couple other characters find a dead body that had been decaying in one of the water tanks (yes, they’d been drinking said water). Finding out who the girl was, and how she ended up dead, becomes a short of mission for Jon. Investigating becomes a good distraction (or does it?). Plus, there’s a looming fear that the murderer might still be inside the hotel.
This sub-plot, plus the eerie atmosphere that the novel presents, is likely why The Last has been touted as Agatha Christie meets Stephen King. However, I had a difficult time seeing this. The mystery is overshadowed by the character’s desire to survive, and while some aspects of the book are a bit creepy, it’s really not that scary.
The book’s description also compares it to “high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts.” This is what initially piqued my interest in reading it—I absolutely loved both of the aforementioned books—but felt like The Last fell short.
While I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I think many others will. It has an uncomfortable setting, creepy descriptions, an impending sense of doom, and a wild plot twist. Sure, my expectations may have been a little high, but I did still enjoy this book overall.
The Last will be available on April 9, 2019, and can be bought wherever books are sold. Thank you to the publisher for an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley.