Science (?) Fiction
“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”
Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life–the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.
With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.
I happened upon this book one afternoon in WH Smith, armed with a half price voucher for The Richard and Judy Book Club 2013. I browsed through the book club choices and was intrigued by the story that The Age of Miracles offered.
We know the day has 24 hours, each hour 60 minutes, each minute 60 seconds. What if you woke up one day and that had changed? The day before had been longer than usual by a few minutes. The next day by a few minutes more, each day growing longer than the one before until daylight lasts almost 48 hours until night falls again.
In the case of The Age of Miracles, this comes to be known as “The Slowing”.
When reading the synopsis, I was surprised I hadn’t pondered similar myself in the past. My mind is always coming up with strange “What ifs?”.
The Age of Miracles is told from the perspective of Julia, an 11 year old living in California who comments on the effect the changes have on herself, her family, neighbours and friends. After several days of ever expanding hours, the American government makes the decision to return to 24 hour time. This means that some days may be dark and some nights may be light but schools and businesses can continue to run to the same schedule. Some people choose to live by real time, waking when it’s light and sleeping when it’s dark. These people are soon seen as outsiders and forced from their homes by their neighbours, into new settlements setting up across the nation.
Then there are those that are made ill by the changes, the alteration to gravity and time having strange effects on their bodies and their health. Some people start to act differently, changing the way they behave. There are changes to surroundings and nature, natural catastrophes occur and these bring with them a couple of very moving scenes.
Whilst all this is happening, Julia is growing up, moving towards her teenage years and experiencing all that goes with that. Boys, puberty, trainee bras, first kisses – this novel has a real coming of age feel to it. Whilst dealing with major earth-changing issues, it remains sweet and nurturing of young love.
When I spoke to my friend about this novel, he said “you read a sci-fi?!” – a little shocked as sci-fi really isn’t my genre of choice. I explained that I didn’t see this novel as sci-fi. It’s not about what’s happening to the world so much as how that is affecting the characters. How a family man suddenly changes to an adulterer, how changes can divide communities, how healthy children suddenly become ill and how different generations deal with “The Slowing” in different ways.
The problem with this lack of scientific detail is that you don’t actually find out why things are happening. They just happened, and that’s that.
This is a good debut, it’s not brilliant but it’s brave and it’s different. I can honestly say that I haven’t read a book like it previously. My only negative point would be that you discover that an older Julia is telling how it was there and then, but when you read it you feel like 11 year old Julia is telling you about it in the here and now.
My Rating 4/5 – An intriguing story and an extremely enjoyable read. This is a novel about love, nature, family and change. It’s dramatic, youthful and engaging and I struggled to put this book down as I couldn’t wait to find out not only what happened but why it was happening. I was therefore disappointed that you don’t actually find out why but I will still recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different and can understand why it was picked to be part of the Richard and Judy Book Club this summer.