The Last of Us by Rob Ewing
On a remote Scottish island, five children are the only ones left. Since the Last Adult died, sensible Elizabeth has been the group leader, testing for a radio signal, playing teacher and keeping an eye on Alex, the littlest, whose insulin can only last so long.
There is ‘shopping’ to do in the houses they haven’t yet searched and wrong smells to avoid. For eight-year-old Rona each day brings fresh hope that someone will come back for them, tempered by the reality of their dwindling supplies.
With no adults to rebel against, squabbles threaten the fragile family they have formed. And when brothers Calum Ian and Duncan attempt to thwart Elizabeth’s leadership, it prompts a chain of events that will endanger Alex’s life and test them all in unimaginable ways.
Regular readers of The Eloquent Page are no doubt well aware that I read a lot of apocalyptic fiction. I make little effort to hide the fact that it is my favourite sub-genre of fiction. I’m always on the look for a fresh new interpretation of the end of the world. As soon as I read the blurb for The Last of Us, I knew it was going to be right up my street.
Following a young girl called Rona, the chapters jump between events just before and just after the point when the children are left alone. We get to view everything through her eyes. Take it from me, watching the world end from an eight-year old’s perspective is just as traumatic as you would expect. With each new problem it feels like another tiny piece of Rona’s innocence is being chipped away.
It would be a stone-hearted individual who didn’t find themselves moved by the children’s plight. Left alone, they have been forced to try and exist in a world where they still haven’t quite mastered all the rules. The oldest, Elizabeth, does her best to try and set boundaries, but some of the children aren’t old enough to appreciate their necessity. It particularly interesting watching the dynamic between Elizabeth and Calum Ian. Where Elizabeth has sought comfort in order and routine, Calum Ian has gone completely the opposite way. He has embraced his new found freedom and the chaos it affords.
One of my favourite elements of this story is something that is purposefully absent. We don’t get to witness a huge, awe inspiring cataclysm. The events that have led to the groups seclusion are alluded to but never specifically confirmed. No massive detail is revealed and I really like this approach. In this instance, the specifics regarding how and why so many have died is secondary to the situation the children find themselves in.
The narrative builds chapter by chapter towards the ultimate realisation that if the children don’t leave the island, they will eventually die. All the things that they previously took for granted have been swept away overnight and there is no-one left behind to care for them. The longer they are left on their own, the more urgent the requirement for care becomes.
Watching how each of the children try to cope with the myriad of problems they are forced to face is heart-breaking stuff. Ewing does a masterful job of depicting all his characters. They all come across as wonderfully genuine and realistic. The isolation of the Scottish islands is also a perfect complement to the unfolding plot. Everything from geography and weather plays its part in this story.
As a side note to the gamers amongst you. Though this novel shares its title with a popular apocalyptic console game, they are not related to one another in any way. That said, they are both superb in their own way.
If you enjoy apocalyptic fiction and you’re looking for a slightly different take on the genre, then I suggest you give this a go. This is a haunting, beautifully delicate fiction. I can’t recommend it highly enough. My advice – make sure you have plenty of tissues. There is a good chance that this book is going to break your heart.
The Last of Us is published by The Borough Press and available now.