This book review was written prior to this website transitioning to AI-written reviews by Buddy the BookBot. This review is the opinions of Kirstie, the human.
I had SUCH high hopes for this novel. The premise sounded great. The world has ended in nuclear war? YES PLEASE. Survivors are holed up in a hotel, and a body turns up? HELLA POIROT, GIMME. The race is on to find the killer? I’M THERE. The cover and the blurb activated that little part of my brain which said ‘ooooh’ and I’d plonked it in my basket during the final four seconds of waiting in line at Waterstones. A choice I regretted almost immediately after reading the first few chapters.
This review will contain spoilers because I’m not recommending that you bother reading it.
I’m going to be as generous as I can with this review because after all, it is a Penguin published novel (a high, established level indeed), other readers seem to enjoy it and I don’t want to be THAT reviewer who rips cruelly into other people’s work. But I have to say, this book has made me angry and frustrated about being duped into reading it, because I LOVE reading books and this took time away from me that I could have been using to read a better one. I know, I’m overreacting, but the wounds are still fresh.
Let’s start with the positives. The written style serves its purpose and it moves you from one plot point to the next. The first couple of ‘days’ recorded are the most interesting of the lot (the first lines of the novel are great) and it does feed some of the morbid curiosity about what would happen on the day the world ‘ends’ because it doesn’t focus on the most dramatic elements, simply a very personal and distanced experience. Finding out about the end of the world through your phone nowadays is actually pretty fucking likely and does send a little shiver up my spine when I think about it too long.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book falls flat on its face. The drama never picks up and you’re left convinced that this premise was far too large of a challenge for Hanna to tackle. Which is frustrating because truly, there’s not much to the plot at all. With that and her simple and easy to digest writing style, I managed to whizz through this book in less than 5 hours (thank god).
Firstly (SPOILER, YOUR LAST WARNING), the entire plot is based around the discovery of a young girl’s body in the water tower of the hotel. She was discovered a few days after the ‘end of the world’ has happened, when they go to check the water supply. Our protagonist then spends the entirety of the novel obsessing over her murder, ‘interviewing’ other hotel members about her (who are also completely confused as to why this girl is so important when billions have died, and why he isn’t concerned with more pressing matters like lack of food and cannibal neighbours) and generally being the wettest-lettuce-detective in the world. The kicker? None of his digging makes any fucking difference because he could NEVER have guessed who the murderer is anyway. Rendering his work, and our time, pointless.
Overall, Jon is an intensely dislikable character. This isn’t to say that fantastic novels can’t be built on dislikable characters, but in this book it causes the reader to completely detach from him. I couldn’t have cared less about him and honestly kept hoping someone would shoot him. I’m not sure what it is about him which is so unlikeable – there are elements which show us that Hanna intended him to be disliked to a point (many un-subtle hints and then confirmation that he cheated on his wife before she ‘died’) – but it is so much more than that.
He comes across as a troubled white-knight who dramatically lays around the place, thinking about how damaged he is, and how bad he is for other people. He inexplicably latches onto the murder of this girl as something he can do to prove to himself that he’s a ‘good guy’ after all (while clearly believing that all along because he continually uses his education in political science and ‘high morals’ to look down upon, and condescendingly ‘decipher’ other people). He’s a big Debbie Downer throughout the book, slowing the pace at every turn.
Another main character is Tomi, who is portrayed as a cliché ‘female badass’ in that she is outspoken, can shoot a gun ‘better than the men’, drinks a lot, has lots of no-strings sex with said men, loses her shit easily and, predictably, doesn’t want kids or anything vaguely domestic. Jon’s wife and kids have been presumed-dead for less than two months when he starts having sex with her, because of course he does. It was such an obvious plot point that it somehow makes him a less dimensional character, not more.
Jon and Tomi occasionally share the exact same tone of voice. It’s a problem throughout (except in the cases of the international guests) where I could read a line and anyone could have said it. All of the main characters speak with the same voice, the same intonation and as a result, completely merge together. All of their emotions change on a dime and they go from swearing wildly and brandishing guns to being coma-calm and vice versa. I imagine these kind of mood swings may happen in an apocalypse, but it felt more like the plot demanded a certain reaction from the characters, and their personalities were twisted to deliver that reaction with no thought to authenticity.
Towards the end, Jon also requires absolutely no convincing to stay put and not go after his family (who are miraculously all OK despite being in the epicentre). He says, verbatim: “I don’t want to go […] I just feel like I have to. I have to find my family.” His friend says: “. . . Maybe she’d prefer knowing you were alive here rather than dead trying to reach them” and immediately he replies: “Fuck. You’re right.” And that’s it.
My biggest problem with this novel was the ending. I absolutely hate murder mysteries where you have no chance of working out who is responsible for the murder, and this was one of them. During the last 10% of the book, I was getting frustrated because I realised that there was no way that she could wrap this up in a satisfactory way in the few hundred pages that was left. Turns out that Hanna didn’t intend to wrap it up – she just dropped in a confession and dabbed out. I found out who the murderer was and, no joke, threw the book across the room in frustration. For those interested – the murderer isn’t even a character in the book until they are revealed as the person responsible. Suddenly they pop up and ‘confess’ that days before, they’d gone to the hotel to perform a ritual sacrifice using her, in order to bring about the end of the world. Sorry what?
There is also a really disturbing scene where Nicholas Van Shaik, one of the men trapped in the hotel, attempts to rape one of the young women in a thinly veiled nod to the #metoo movement. Of course, morals dictate that you believe a victim when she comes forward about being assaulted. But usually you would talk to the accused also, and if they were guilty then perhaps in this situation you would turn them out to the forest or lock them in a room to prevent harm coming to anyone else. Instead, the group decide to execute him without trial.
I could understand this towards the end of an apocalyptic novel which has ramped up to a scene of desperation, paranoia and a totally new moral order – where everything has pretty much gone to shit. But this is presented as a stone-sober, “pragmatic” solution which followed some slow chapters and so seemed totally over the top and creeped me out more than anything else.
ANYWAY, long story short (I wish) – I’d recommend that you read something else. Two questions:
- Have you read it already and liked it? If so, am I being too harsh? What did you like about it?
- Could someone please recommend to me in the comments some good apocalypse novels?
10 thoughts on “Book review: ‘The Last’ by Hanna Jameson”
Just finished reading The Last and was so disappointed I went searching for reviews to see if I’d missed some greater meaning (I’m not exactly a literary genius). I found your review and it absolutely nailed everything I was thinking. I too had to check how many pages were left as I realised there was far too many things to tie up. I get it that it is meant to be a snapshot of history told by one character, and so somethings may be unexplained. But many just seem plain forgotten. As a reader who has invested time reading a novel, we’re owed at least some of the threads being tied up. Adam’s shadow boy in the corner? What ‘useful’ meant in the city and why the food farm was so heavily guarded? Was everyone brought there for a reason? Was there a paranormal presence in the hotel and why were there so many suicides?
Also, I had to re-read the front and back covers to see if I’d misread them initially. Nope, definitely sells it as a ‘last person standing’ murder thriller. Part of me hoped it would be left open so I could at least give it another chance to expand the story with a sequel. But even then I’d give serious consideration as to whether I read it.
Anyway, I never leave comments but felt compelled to as I thought your review was spot on. Glad I wasn’t alone! Had such high hopes from the premise.
If you did have any other apocalypse type books you’d recommend I’d be interested to hear.
Hey man! Thanks for leaving such a detailed comment – it’s been a while since I’ve read it now but you’ve nailed it with all of those loose ends! I completely forgot about the shadow boy and the idea that people were being farmed to be useful. It was all so confusing!
I’m really glad I could help, I also felt like I was going a bit mad when I could find nothing but good reviews 😀 As far as apocalypse-type books, The Road by Cormac McCarthy is my top recommendation if you haven’t read it (would be interested to hear what you think) – but I’m also looking for some new ones to sink my teeth into! Have a great day 🙂
Yeah – agree with your review. This book was good enough to be very annoying. I could not stand the Tomi character, what a total fascist. Which I guess means it good under my skin 🙂
It’s like that phrase “Art makes you feel something”. Sometimes I wonder whether a book that frustrates me awfully has achieved something – but then I decide I’d prefer a satisfying and well-written novel 🙂
I also felt cheated out of a good sex scene…
Hi I have to read this for English class but I’m not going to finish it now I feel
like it should indeed be more exciting I am somewhere at the beginning now and they just introduced tomi and I already don’t like her so thanks for this review
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Well, good for you for trying – I’m the kind of person who will drag myself through to the last page just to be sure I gave it every chance to succeed, but if you’re not feeling it and you have a ton of other homework, fair play. Just make sure you don’t have an exam on it! 😀
thanks for this. I saw a youtuber recommend the book so i went to the library to borrow it, but had only gotten about a third of a way through before becoming bored and deciding to do something else. Glad to silence the nagging “What if it did turn out good though” voice in the back of my head with your review 🙂