Review first published 30/08/12
‘It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophies are always different – unimagined, unprepared for, unknown… ‘
What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..?
One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.
It seems strange to say that a book about a potential “end of the world” scenario can be summed up in words such as “beautiful” or “gentle”, but these are words that I would attribute to this debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker.
What we witness through the eyes of lead character Julia is a catastrophe of epic proportions in “The Slowing”, but rather than the usual fare of box office disaster films where a single event such as a meteor strike takes centre stage, this disaster moves likes a slowly ticking clock which is an irony as one of the symptoms of this catastrophe is that the days extend little by little in time scale.
The fact that this story is seen through the eyes of an eleven year old observer (albeit told in retrospect), rather than a journalist or an expert, means that the descriptions feel like they have more depth to them as little by little the Earth slowly changes around Julia… the weather, the ecosystem and the health of the people around her. This is balanced with how “The Slowing” affects her lifestyle – the friendships that are built and lost, how her family – most notably her mother – slips into a survival mode, and a family relationship which may or may not have been impacted upon by “The Slowing”.
But, the book doesn’t neglect the fact that this is also a book about a young girl making her first steps into adolescence with issues such as training bras and first loves being mixed alongside temperature extremes, extinct vegetation and astronauts being stranded in space.
Another area that Ms Thompson Walker uses this story is as a metaphor for current events – such as how “The Slowing” affects birds being a parallel to the current “colony collapse syndrome” phenomenon in honey bees, religious/racial intolerance being paralleled in the way people who stick to the day and night patterns of the day are shunned by those who stick to a 24 hour clock, and the use, or overuse, of our resources.
The language of the book set at a level where you can believe that this is a young woman looking to bottle up the story of her younger life alongside the sights, sounds and smells of a world under threat and how this is affecting those around her before she forgets how sunlight feels, grass smells or how her loved ones looked like before “The Slowing” takes control of their lives.
A great debut novel which has the capacity be both warm about the recollections of childhood and chilling in its dystopian setting.
If you would like to know more about “The Age of Miracles” or Karen Thompson Walker, please follow the link.