I received The Last One in exchange for an honest review
I’ve had my eye on this book for months; the plot alone sounds so intriguing, so different and such an amalgamation of things I love, I had to give it a try.
Based around a reality TV show called ‘Into The Woods’, the novel follows ‘Zoo’ (a nickname given to the main character by the producers due to the fact that she works with animals) and eleven other contestants as they journey across woods and countryside. The contestant have to complete challenges and overcome obstacles, living off the land, building shelters and skinning animals in order to eat. But there’s a twist to this survival game, and it takes on a dark reality when, unbeknownst to the contestants, a real-life pandemic breaks out wiping out a large amount of the population and leaving every citizen fighting for survival. It’s a clever, original concepts which acts as a spring-board, allowing the author to explore both the staged drama of reality TV shows and the fear-inducing landscape of a post-pandemic world.
Here’s the main issue I had with this book; most of the characters only feel skin-deep. Literally; the author seems to have a slight obsession with describing appearances, particularly race. Take this for example: “The editor is as lightskinned as the producer but would darken in the sun. His ancestry is complicated. Growing up, he never knew which ethnicity box to check; in the last census he selected white.” All this for one minor character who has very little bearing on the plot. Couple that with the fact that the contestant are usually referred to using bizarre nicknames based around their occupation – sometimes with race thrown in such as “Black Doctor” – and it all serves to create a slightly surreal sense of disconnect.
The only conclusion I can come to is that perhaps the author was trying to write her book as if it were a TV show, like the one the story centres around. If that’s the case, then it’s a commendably original idea, and some aspects of the TV show atmosphere really work (the opening scene essentially playing out the opening credits of the show was a stroke of genius in my opinion). But the strange nicknames and lengthy descriptions weren’t for me.
Having got that out of the way, there’s a lot to appreciate about this novel. The blurring of reality when a survival game becomes a true battle to stay alive is cleverly done. Zoo’s constant underlying paranoia and suspicion as she battles against the elements, believing that the omnipresent production crew have set up the entire post-pandemic world she encounters is excruciatingly infuriating and yet sympathetic to read.
And, even though the post-pandemic world isn’t the result of an extremely imaginative television show, amongst the apocalyptic drama the author also skillfully explores the power of TV shows like this; the clever editing used to present a certain side to the viewing public and the overwhelming pressure experienced by some of the contestants.
Whilst this book fell a little flat in places for me, it does raise some interesting points and it has a strong ending – one which allows a little hope without being a cliched happily-ever-after. It’s not a perfect novel, there’s definitely some odd writing quirks, but this story is still well worth a read for fans of the survival genre or anyone looking for something a little bit different.