I received an advanced copy of The Last Of Us in exchange for an honest review
On a remote Scottish island, five children struggle to survive alone in a post-pandemic world. The narrator is nine-year-old Rona who, along with Alex, Elizabeth, Calum Ian and Duncan, lives in a village which has been wiped out by a virus. They are the only survivors. Under the leadership of Elizabeth – the eldest of the group and daughter of two doctors – the group get by, forming routines in order to survive their new world and retain their memories of the times that came before and those they have lost.
The Last Of Us left me with some mixed feelings. One one hand, there’s something unique and affecting reading about a desolate, post-apocalyptic land from the frank, unflinching point of view of a nine-year-old. But Rona’s narration feels somewhat fragmented; her childish thoughts don’t flow easily and as a result I had some difficulty connecting with her character. The plot is quite slow-moving at times too, but there’s something haunting about the the children’s day-to-day activities; dealing with situations no children should have to face.
The world-building and atmosphere in this novel is so authentic it feels frighteningly realistic. The children forage houses for food and supplies, coming up with their own methods for coping with the bleak reality of their situation. Houses that have been visited get spray-painted with either a ‘G’ or a ‘B’ on the front door. ‘B’ is for bad – houses which have a ‘smell’, tinged with the decaying bodies of those who lived there before. It’s little things like this, combined with the children’s frank relaying of the situation – “..our teacher, Mrs Leonard, who’s dead now, though you can still see her if you want to.” – which make for a chilling reading experience.
Whilst I struggled with Rona’s narrative style a little, through her childish eyes the author did a wonderful job of portraying the other children as complex, emotive characters. My favourite was Elizabeth, the leader of the group; just a child herself but forced into the role of adult in order to care for and lead the group. She never cried; she never gave up; she always tried to solve any problem which came their way and yet it was clear she carried her own burdens and grief. More of each child’s back-stories – each as tragic as the next – are gradually revealed as the present-day narrative progresses adding more depth and encouraging empathy as the book reaches its conclusion.
This probably isn’t one for those who love a plot-driven story, but it is subtly powerful. Ewing focuses on world-building and character development, using elegant to paint a chilling picture of a post-pandemic future.