Book Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

This is a wonderful book. I was initially drawn to it because it deals with life after the end of the world, which is a subject I find fascinating, but I feel like this book is actually so much more than that.

The novel takes the form of the diary entries of our main character Jon, who takes it upon himself to record the events that happen after the world ends. He is staying in a hotel in Switzerland for a work conference when the nuclear bombs fall, ending civilisation as it currently exists.

After the bombs fall, Jon must adjust to life in this post-apocalyptic setting. He stays at the hotel with a host of other interesting characters and, as they try to carve out their way to survival, they make a grizzly discovery: the body of a young girl in a water tank in the hotel.

Jon becomes obsessed with solving this crime, and the novel does an amazing job of showing his descent mentally as his obsession devours him. Jameson constantly toys with the reader, using the unreliable narrative to twist reality.

As time goes on, tensions rise in the hotel as people turn on one another. The other characters in this book were great; I loved their different personalities and the exploration of how different types of people might cope with this sort of experience. As their society begins to inevitably crumble, characters start to break down, and their slice of civilisation is further tested when it becomes apparent that they might not be the only survivors. Isolated and vulnerable in a lonely hotel, the characters plight is genuinely unsettling.

I adored this novel. I felt Jameson did a great job of writing a twisty, unpredictable narrative that went beyond the constraints of genre. It’s not a light read, but it certainly an addictive one that stays with you.

Reasons to read:

  • A unique take on what life might be like at the end of the world
  • Well written characters
  • Good range of diversity in the characters
  • Unpredictable and unsettling

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Suicide
  • Drug use
  • Mental health topics
  • Death and violence
  • Domestic abuse
  • Discussion of rape

Book Review: Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is an absolutely gorgeous book and I think everyone should read it. Alice Oseman is a powerhouse of a human. Her comic Heartstopper is amazing and she has a real gift for capturing the strange feeling of being a young person.

Loveless is a novel about a girl named Georgia who has never had a crush on anyone. As she begins her university life, she sets out to change this and to find love- after all, she loves love, thinking about it constantly and obsessing over fanfiction. With the help of her seemingly confident and knowledgeable roommate Rooney, and her best friends Jason and Pip, she embarks on her university journey towards true love.

Except- it doesn’t play out that way. As the novel progresses, Georgia has to come to terms with the fact that, actually, she doesn’t experience romantic or sexual attraction at all. With the help of Sunil, the aromantic asexual president of the Pride Society, she begins to accept her sexuality.

One of the amazing things about this novel is the characters- even the secondary characters feel fleshed out and believable, with their own quirks and personalities that make you love them. They are all real, flawed people, who are capable of doing both good and bad things and react in believable ways to the things that happen. Rooney was a particular favourite of mine; she is an absolute treasure and, as the story developed and I learned more about her, I just adored her.

The interaction between the characters felt so authentic; the group starts a Shakespeare Society and a lot of the story involves their attempt to put on a showcase of some of Old Shakey’s most romantic plays. The fact that Georgia is trying to come to terms with who she is around this is really affecting. The core message of the book is that the love between friends is just as important and as authentic as the love two humans can share romantically. This works so well here because the friendships depicted in the book are so raw and real.

In addition to Georgia’s journey of self-acceptance, there is also the absolute treat of the enemies-to-lovers, will-they-won’t-they romance between Pip and Rooney. I love this trope so much, and seeing it done so effectively between two queer female characters is a delight.

There is absolutely nothing I didn’t like about this book. It feels like an important piece of #ownvoices writing and a truly authentic and heartfelt story.

Reasons to read:

  • A heartwarming, authentic story about an aroace character discovering and accepting themselves
  • Diverse characters
  • An amazing cast of characters who feel real and who are delightful
  • Queer women in an enemies-to-lovers extravaganza
  • Wholesome content

Possible trigger warnings:

  • Mentions of past abusive behaviour
  • Acephobic references
  • Some experimenting with a character without them knowing

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Firstly, I can’t believe I’ve managed to get to the age of thirty without reading this book. I’ve always had a sort of grumpy avoidance of things other people really recommend; it isn’t snobbishness, it’s more the feeling that when something is built up that much, it can’t possibly live up to it. It’s that awkward moment where your friend is showing you their favourite film and you’re just not feeling it. So I have been aware of The Handmaid’s Tale forever, been told to read it hundreds of times, but just not done so. What a mistake.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. I read Vox a few months ago, and I also read The Power last year, both of which draw heavily on the ideas in The Handmaid’s Tale. (Incidentally, I read all three of these books for the same reason- the Newcastle Girl book club.) This female-focused, dystopian, morally heavy style of story really does it for me.

The thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it isn’t overly difficult to imagine a world in which the horrifying reality presented is true; we already know, don’t we, that there are people who live in liberal, western countries who oppose women’s rights to do what they want with their bodies? There are people who oppose feminism. There are people who use religion to push their own beliefs onto the masses. That’s the real power of this book- it’s not a completely alien world that is presented, but one which could fairly easily be reality.

The story itself is very loose; the narrative style is erratic and conversational, flicking back and forward in time, and it works so well. Our protagonist, who we know only by her enforced name of Offred, is a Handmaid, a fertile woman in a world where that is rare. She is forced into a life of horrifying servitude in which she must attempt to conceive the child of a powerful man, a child who will be raised by the man’s wife.

I was absolutely gripped by this book. I can’t imagine many people are reading this who haven’t read this yet, but if you are one of them, you absolutely have to read it. I was furious, heartbroken and horrified by it, and it absolutely deserves the praise it receives.