The Age of Miracles by Karin Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster)
“... we all had a little more time to decide what not to do. And who knows how fast a second-guess can travel? Who has ever measured the exact speed of regret?”
I enjoy novels which one might categorise as speculative fiction: The Age of Miracles certainly fits this category – it pushes the boundaries of conventional fiction and challenges the reader to ponder that age old question “what if...?”
The premise of Walker’s debut is based on the intriguing idea that the Earth’s rotation has begun to slow, causing the days to grow by fifty six minutes. Gradually, this increases to the point where days would go by in complete darkness only to be followed by days of bright light.
This, of course, affects the environment, gravity, and most importantly, the manner in which people adapt to a new world with new structures and routines.
In essence, this book is about one family seen through the eyes of the only child, Julia, and how each day becomes a different challenge as life has to go on. Julia is on the verge of adolescence and she is just as worried about approaching the hot boy at school as she is about birds falling from the sky because of ‘the slowing’.
Her parents are at a stage in their lives where their marriage is beginning to show cracks, her grandfather is completely paranoid about what he perceives as a government conspiracy, and her best friend is leaving the state because her Mormon family believes ‘the slowing’ signals the end times.
Alone and unpopular, Julia has to contend with growing up in a world which is shifting towards a very real but invisible catastrophe.
Added to this, the governments declare ‘clock time’ – that is to say, regardless of whether it is sunshine or darkness, people must live according to the time on the clock. Some people go along with this; others resist – resulting in increasing persecution and fear.
“How quaint the old twenty-four-hour clock began to look to us, how impossibly clean-cut... How had we believed, we wondered, in such simplistic things?”
If I had one criticism, it would be the title. The Age of Miracles sounds too much like a self-help book than the wonderfully insightful read it actually is. It is a pity no one could come up with something simpler and catchier – for example The Slowing, as a friend suggested.
Punctuated with philosophy, The Age of Miracles is a sterling novel which one can easily finish in a day (a regular 24 hour one) and it will leave you thinking about it for a long time afterwards.
Walker has captured the uncertainty of the human condition in a very unique and yet realistic tale, portraying the reactions and lives of people caught up in a situation that no one fully comprehends.
Top marks for a splendid debut.
“But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different – unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.”
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