Review: The Age of Miracles; Karen Thompson Walker

The earth’s rotation is slowing, but apparently life goes on…. 3.5 stars

Source- borrowed from a friend (library copy)

Simon and Schuster- 2012

Hardback- 372 pages

This is in part a coming of age novel, part dystopian fiction, though can’t quite make up its mind what it really wants to be.

Narrated in hindsight through the eyes of eleven-year-old Julia, we learn of the dawning discovery that the earth is beginning to rotate more slowly on its axis and the terrible repercussions that this has for the planet as we currently know it. Told right from the fateful day that scientists broke the news, to the present, the reader learns of the devastating impacts on civilisation, set against a backdrop of a young girl who also has many other adolescent problems also manifesting themselves in her life.

I have to say that initially I found this to be a compelling read. I found the voice of Julia believable (the author can write a young girl very well) and the writing flowed beautifully. Characters were well-drawn and there weren’t so many as to become confusing. Once I understood the drama surrounding the events however, the book for me just lost a bit of its sparkle. One minute you were learning about potential radiation sickness, circadian rhythms being affected and days lengthening and the next you were back with Julia at the school bus stop as she stared at the boy she had a crush on. It was just such an odd blend of narrative.

At times this book was reminiscent of ‘On the Beach’ by Neville Shute (though nowhere near as good), in that it details some of the catastrophic impacts on the human race after an unmitigated disaster- in particular the sickness elicited from the sun’s radiation and the effects on the earth’s magnetic field. These ideas were well-written and evocative for the most part, yet never seemed to be explored to their full potential. I’m no scientist but I really struggled to grasp some of the concepts that the author talks about too- it just felt very flawed. Surely days would lengthen gradually over a long period of time, not over a matter of weeks or even days? I was also interested in the aspect of solar storms, though these were glossed over and only warranted a couple of paragraphs. One notion that I did find myself enjoying was about the civilians circadian rhythms being affected and of some facets of society still wishing to partake in ‘real time’ and forming their own communities. Again, this just wasn’t built upon enough- division of society in such a time of peril is a topic that could have been explored a lot more.

Scientific and other quibbles aside, and though I sense perhaps it is unfair to compare them, ‘On the Beach’ focused on the terminal impact of nuclear fallout and was much more graphic than this book was, as you would expect given that this is a YA novel. I suppose that is probably my main gripe with this book: I wanted to know more; cause and effect, generally more scientific details! As it is told from a child’s perspective there is a certain degree of innocence and naivety to the whole proceedings, but this left me feeling a little bit flat to be honest. I would have at least liked to have understood why the earth’s rotation was slowing down, for example.  Nothing was ever fully explained and I feel that the constant focus on the every day routines and the mundane detracted from the bigger picture, despite me understanding that the characters seemingly needed that degree of regularity to keep on going.

As far as dystopian fiction goes, this was merely a satisfying read, but nothing more than that. I have certainly read better within this genre- I think this was perhaps just too subtle and slow-paced to suit my own preferences (call it sci-fi ‘light’ if you will). Bearing in mind that I am clearly not its target market however, I do think a lot of teens would enjoy this book.

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