Nadia once told me that she was kept awake at night by the idea that she would read about the end of the world on a phone notification. It wasn’t exactly Kennedy’s Sword of Damocles speech, but I remember that moment word for word.
For me, three days ago, it happened over a complimentary breakfast.
This was a book with a fascinating premise. Nuclear weapons have detonated around the world and caused the end of civilisation as we know it. Historian Jon Keller is at a conference in a Swiss hotel and is trapped, along with twenty others, and decides to document life there after the world has ended. When he discovers the body of a dead girl in one of the hotel’s water tanks, the book becomes part-post-apocalyptic, part-murder mystery, with the tension building as Jon suspects one of his fellow residents in the hotel is the murderer.
Hundreds of thousands of people were dead, and everyone was waiting for a government that no longer existed to talk them through the protocol for something that had never happened before.
Unfortunately, the excitement of this premise only lasted as long as the first hundred pages or so. Most of the characters, including Jon, were unlikeable – and although that is not a fault in and of itself, it did mean I didn’t care for any of their struggles. A lot of them also had very similar names – Tomi Sophia, Mia, Tania – and I kept getting them confused as they were not very well fleshed out. With such a large cast of characters, it would be difficult to make them all as equally developed as each other, especially since the narrative is told from Jon’s perspective through his diary, but none of them are developed much at all beyond basic facts. Perhaps this was intended to convey the sparsity and uncertainty of the end of the world, of being trapped in an isolated location with virtual strangers, but overall I did not know enough about any of them to care. The same, strangely, could also be said of the plot – the murder mystery element is often shunted to the background and almost forgotten in favour of the characters arguing over politics with overt references to the present – one character even states they only voted a certain way to make their country better – or else taking drugs to deal with the sudden monotony and uncertainty of their existence.
We were fine here in Europe. We were just praying you guys wouldn’t do anything stupid. Well, to be fair, the whole world was pretty stupid. We just hoped it wouldn’t be end of the world stupid.
Watching a whole city being vaporised on television seemed too fast and quiet, possibly since the observers have become desensitised from watching apocalyptic films. People continually mistook movement for progress. These ideas that the book brings up are interesting and make you think, but only for a few moments. For the most part, I found that this book didn’t live up to its premise – the murder mystery was barely present, I did not care for any of the characters, and most of the book was used to explore them squabbling or hiding away from their problems. I’m sure there are many great books about the end of the world but unfortunately this is not one of them.