All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.
Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic novel following the adventures of one of the few survivors after a terrible virus burns through humanity. But it’s a lot more grown-up than just charting the gritted determination of Jamie to survive in a world where everything has been so very changed. It’s a book that examines what she was expecting from life and the world – and what happens to her when those expectations are smashed after she experiences a tragedy far more common than the end of the world – a miscarriage.
Written in third person, this book gets right under the skin of the main character, warts and all. I didn’t like her very much – she is often quiet when she should say something and is awkward around humans. While she initially trained as a doctor, she moved sideways and qualified as a vet because she was a loss to know what to say or do when people, scared and ill, would proffer intimate details of their life to her. When she meets up with other survivors, she is clearly socially inept. During an argument on board a ship in cramped conditions, she flares at one of the other passengers, who is clearly suffering with her own mental problems – to the extent that I wanted to slap her just to shut her up.
Did I care for her, though? Oh yes. Corlett has written a character who doesn’t feel she fits anywhere. Who wants to reach out to the only man she thinks she’ll ever love – but can’t deal with the crowding that brings. Or his own demand for her to open up and release her sense of grief for their lost baby – something she simply cannot do. By the end of the book, we get to understand exactly why Jamie is as she is, while she undertakes a long journey, both literally and also emotionally with a small group of survivors, who are also shattered at the profound loss they have endured.
What this isn’t, is a completely bleak read. There are times when the situation lurches into farce, for instance when they encounter a group of elderly folk living in a stately home acting as if they are in the middle of a Jane Austen novel. And there is some nicely edged banter with the grumpy space pilot, who is clearly more comfortable carrying crates of freight than the group of traumatised passengers he ends up ferrying.
Corlett brings this tale to a satisfactory conclusion, including solving the mystery of what caused the virus in the first place. I closed the book, musing on Jamie’s journey – and wondering if I was left standing with everyone I cared about gone, what I’d do next. This is one I shall be thinking about for a while, I suspect. If you enjoy unusual books that raise hard, pertinent questions about why we are here and what we are doing, then track this one down.