For eleven-year-old Julia, it is the age of miracles; the age where kids shoot up three inches over the summer; that rough crossing, from childhood to the next life.
I have a long love affair with dystopian fiction. Aged eleven, I sat at a battered, oak, lift-top school desk and a work copy of The Guardians by John Christopher was put in front of me. It had a frayed purple cover and I can still remember the bitter, brittle smell of it. Goodness knows how old it was and I’ve not seen it anywhere since, but I loved it. Three years later, in the same classroom with high Victorian windows and institutional buttercup paint, I was given George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. We were to read and compare them for our G.C.S.E’s. I read 1984 in about 48 hours and the world did not look the same afterwards. I think this was the start of my love of books that unnerve, make you think and leave you wiser. I then, inspired, found Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale by myself and if you’ve read this blog for very long, you will know I loved that enough to come back to it in my Open University Masters degree last year. Fahrenheit 451 and The Road have also been added to my collection in the years that followed.
When I saw that a new dystopian novel had been released, The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, I knew I had to read it. I will say immediately that this was lighter than I expected. More of a holiday read than a life-changer like 1984. However, it was perfectly enjoyable. The premise, a ‘slowing’ of the turning of the earth with days and nights getting longer is shaky at best, but the real story here is about Julia and her family. Thompson Walker uses the device of an adult looking back on childhood to good effect and the characters are well drawn in the main.I thought there were a few too many loose ends that felt just forgotten rather than deliberate, for example, what happened to Sylvia and would life really continue as normal for as long as it does?
If you are heading off on holiday soon, The Age of Miracles is a good book to take along. It keeps your attention, the plot flows nicely once you’ve suspended your disbelief and it is more gently executed that most dystopian / possible future novels. That said, do not expect more than it can give.