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The Age of Miracles is the best book I have read in a long time. It was well written, an easy read and fine to 'dip in and out' of (having two youngsters, I'm often very stop-start on my reading), but it had good substance - not something that's common in easy read books. The storyline follows a young girl who discovers along with the rest of the world that the turning of the world has started to slow. At first there is a slight panic and a lot of confusion as it literally only adds minutes on to the day. However, over the coming weeks and months, these minutes add up and of course starts to cause a greater impact on life. Things such as food crops, gravity and the magnetic force are eventually interfered with - things I would not have thought about. I read this book whilst camping and I think it hit me harder about taking for granted that the sun will rise, the day is a certain amount of hours and what I do according to the clock and the sun will set, seeing as I was 'closer to nature' during the read. This book was very powerful in a subtle way and definitely not your run-of-the-mill 'End of the World' stories of imminent danger and huge panic. It brought home how insignificant and precarious we actually are.
It's hard to know where to place this novel; sci-fi definitely in part, but mainly it's the story of Julia and her coming of age and everyday existence at High School in America as the "slowing" takes place. When the world slows down and the very length of the days change life is set to change for everyone. As some people embrace the ever increasing long days and live in "real time", Julia and her parents live on clock time and life goes on, complete with teenage angst, crushes and friendship issues and fallings out. As birds fall out of the sky and things deteriorate as the amount of time before the sun sets becomes both longer and less predictable, Julia is preoccupied by her love interest Seth and is the continual observer of her parents and their relationship. This is a book then about a teenager and a world in crisis.
This book worked for me as I thought the premise was so original. I've read a few quite critical reviews of this book where readers have mentioned the characterisation being an issue for them; for me Julia worked but I had to call a little on my teenage self to believe in her. This does seem to be one of those "marmite novels" but I actually quite enjoyed it. Though in lots of ways this is a depressing story I found it interesting and it didn't drag for me and I found bits of it like a casually dropped in "that was the last time we ate pineapple" very poignant. There are more things left explained than explained about what is happening to the world, but again this didn't particularly bother me either; I enjoyed the book for what it was without feeling the need for answers or for the main character to show more ability to think about things than your average teenager would. Maybe if the world were ending teenagers would still carry on being teenagers and more preoccupied by their parents' relationship and feeling their first crush than pondering how long they had left on a decaying planet? I imagine the physics behind the story are probably flawed however for me this was a novel with a new voice and I enjoyed it and would definitely read more from this author.
Currently £5.86 on amazon - I read a review copy
I read the blurb of this book recently while I was working (I'm a bookseller) and it definitely appealed to my fascination with apocalyptic and dystopian literature. At the same time this was a completely new concept as far as I was concerned and although within the same genre a very different take on other disaster books I've read. It has had really great reviews and a colleague of mine had read a proof and really loved it so I thought it was definitely worth a read.
The premise for the book is that the world's rotation is beginning to slow down and as this happens the days and nights get longer. At the beginning the days increase by minutes, and it largely goes unnoticed. Small differences mean people begin to realise and so they extend their days, get rid of 24 hour clock and begin to have 25 hours in the day. The concept is simple enough and realistically portrayed, you can imagine people responding with apathy, disinterest or amusement. The long term ramifications are not really considered by anyone except government officials and in this sense it feels wholly realistic to me.
The book is written in the first person and from the perspective of eleven-year-old Julia, who lives with her parents in suburban America. Alongside the progression of the 'slowing', as it is called in the novel, Julia is developing into a normal teenagers with normal teenage concerns. There is a boy she likes and a friend who she falls out with and exclusion and isolation at school. She is worried about boys and bras and growing boobs, the normal everyday things a young girl would worry about even in the face of potential desolation to the planet. I don't think this is a terrible angle for the book to take but this is definitely where the majority of my issues lie with this book.
As the slowing progresses and days begin to span longer than 30 hours problems start to arise and there are no apparent solutions. There is the gravitational pull to earth which slowly becomes stronger. This causes problems in a variety of ways: gravity sickness, increase in fatal injuries, popular sports become harder to play and birds begin to fall out of the sky dying in swathes. People continue with their lives as normal, seemingly unaffected and the government manage to retain control. Then comes a split which marks out two distinct camps of though: the government send out a announcement that says they will return to 24 hour clock. This means that whole days are lived out without sunlight and that whole nights are slept through in blazing sun. People begin to invest in blackout blinds and electricity consumption reaches dangerous levels. Many other people, dubbed 'real timers', determine their activities not by the clock but by light and dark. These people are ostracised from society and are pushed out of suburbs and towards desert camps where these people form real time cults.
Eventually crops begin to die and there are shortages of food. People adapt to their new environments and hoard canned goods or invest in greenhouses with artificial lighting. Julia's family are no different. As the days grow longer the periods of light become stronger and stronger, eventually so bright that skin burns instantly in sunlight. Crime rates soar in the hours of darkness and much of this is attributed to real timers who are awake while others sleep according to normal time. The outlook is bleak too, there seem to be no real solutions to the problem and so the world drifts towards eventual oblivion.
I think the concept is fantastic and it genuinely could have been a fantastic novel but is falls down in a few vital areas. The perspective of Julia's is frankly distracting and if anything reduces the appeal of the novel and relegates to a sort of teen cross-over which I found a little tedious at times. It is not that she is uninteresting or does not have a valid perspective, just simply that I wanted to read about the human effects and not about a young girl shopping for a bra against her mothers will. The first person perspective and the concept seem totally incongruous and I can't really imagine who would enjoy the novel for both of these aspects. I wanted more about the slowing and less about Julia, but I can imagine a teen reader might want more of Julia's life and less of the slowing. It simply fails because the author does not commit wholly to either strand and therefore the reader is confused and frustrated by the content.
That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the novel, and because I was deeply interested in the concept I managed to overlook the teeny parts that irritated and distracted me. It's just a shame the author didn't really write about the slowing completely, because this could have been a devastating and bleak novel that warns of a destruction no one could have anticipated or calculated.
This book is still in hardback and probably won't be released in paperback until later in the year. It retails at £14.99 so I would recommend waiting for the paperback if you are really keen to read this as it is roughly half the price and may well be on offer.
Overall, I would recommend this but with a strong warning. If you are interested in the concept you will have to read through a lot of teen nonsense to get there and even then you might be a little disappointed because the author never fully commits to the plot.