BOOK REVIEW: Good Morning, Midnight by Lilly Brooks-Dalton
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.
At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.
As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?
When going into this book, it is important to take into account the literary tag.
This is a book in which not a lot happens, where the two main characters are people who were emotionally on the out with society, and physically far removed from everyday life even before the world ended. We never do find out how the world ended, we just know that these two people are stranded, with few people to talk to, and they each have their own troubles to face, but very very little happens in the first 65-70% of this book.
I read the first 100 pages of this book back in August, and while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing, and while it’s only a short book (at 253 pages), there was a certain lack of drive or urgency for me. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t dread returning, I just didn’t have any great incentive to do so.
This was one of my most anticipated titles of 2016, and I put it down for nearly six months with the idea that I would get back to it someday, but without any kind of serious concern for how it was going to wrap up and where it would leave the characters.
The final 30% is the most important part of this book to this less literary/more sci-fi reader, and had it not been there the book would have rated 5/10 at most. Nothing major happens until the final 30% and, while I hesitate to say the book should have been shorter, it would have been a much more engaging read had some of the emotion and drive in the final 30% been present in the rest.
But the truth is that this is a book full of gorgeous descriptions and character studies, and of chilling images of loneliness, in the respectively unforgiving landscapes of outer space and the Arctic.
The poisonous, frozen, boiling blackness that was their road, their sky, their horizon, surrounding Aether and everyone inside with violent indifference. They were not welcome here. They were not safe. After a while Sully stopped trying to escape the terror and let the throbbing ache of it align with her heartbeat, let it ebb and flow with her breath.
The furnace would run out of fuel eventually, of course. The cold would creep into the building, the pipes would freeze, he giant telescope lens would crack. Frost would creep across the windows, and eventually it would consume their cozy control room sanctuary, just as it had the rest of the outpost. Soon enough, winter would live here for good.
And the emotional disconnect between the reader and characters is largely down to the type of people this book is about. These are people who have chosen their passion and work over their families, who themselves have chosen to be distant from the people who love them, in favour of science.
Everything was so much clearer in space: stars, sounds, the entire electromagnetic spectrum coming alive all around her, like seeing fireflies dance in a dark meadow for the first time. Without the interference of Earth, everything seemed different. Sharper. More dangerous, more violent, and also more beautiful.
He wanted to learn from life, from observation. And he did: he learned that love was concealed by a swirling vortex of unpleasant emotions, the invisible, unreachable center of a black hole. It was irrational and unpredictable. He wanted no part of it, and his experiments only confirmed, again and again, how distasteful it all was.
For a book that uses science as the backdrop for characters the reader will find hard to relate to, this does have more heart than one might expect early on, if you only stick with it.
This is a chilling, stark look at a couple of outcasts who are, perhaps, the last humans left, and it won’t offer you many resolutions, but if you’re a literary reader who likes a slightly scientific spin, this is bound to interest you on multiple levels.
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