Review: GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Random House/W&N)

BrooksDaltonL-GoodMorningMidnightUSAn interesting, introspective post-apocalypse novel

The story of two outsiders — a lonely scientist in the Arctic and an astronaut trying to return to Earth — as they grapple with love, regret, and survival in a world transformed.

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

This was an interesting novel. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it has been receiving some good pre-publication buzz. So, I went into it with pretty high hopes. Good Morning, Midnight is a beautifully written, introspective novel. It is not perfect, but if you are most interested in language and description, this should definitely appeal.

Lily Brooks-Dalton’s previous book was a memoir about her motorbikes (which looks interesting). Good Morning, Midnight is a literary take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Like many books of that ilk, it is not action-packed, and far more focused on the internal struggles of its characters. Yes, things happen — of course they do — but the driving force to the narrative is what’s going on inside the protagonists’ heads, how they see themselves in this new world (or, as in the case of this novel, on the way back to it).

The apocalyptic event goes unspecified, and we never learn about the extent of the catastrophe — save for radio silence from Earth, so the reader only knows as much as Augustine, Sully and the rest of her crew. This worked quite well, and the sense of uncertainty was palpable amongst the crew on the space craft. There’s a lot about the novel that is vague — the apocalypse/catastrophe, but also the ultimate fates of the characters. They eventually connect via the radio, but it’s a tricky connection, and there are long stretches of silence and confusion. It’s well done, and I did appreciate that we weren’t served everything on a platter. Plenty is left up to the reader to figure out or finish. There was a nice reveal later in the story, one that was sort-of obvious, but it was done very nicely.

I enjoyed reading the book, and it’s certainly very well written. There’s really no way I can fault Brooks-Dalton’s prose — her descriptions can be beautiful, if sometimes over-long. Her characters’ observations are well-composed, sometimes lyrical and mostly interesting. There’s no adolescent shoe-gazing (which is great, seeing as one of the characters is in his late 70s). But, for some reason, despite her skill at writing prose, I was never really hooked by the story. To be fair, I’m not sure Good Morning, Midnight is the kind of book that does hook the reader in the way I and many others are used to. It is not one that will “grab the reader from page one” (or, the worst of reviewer sins, “from the first word”).

This is more a novel that will delight those who love excellent writing, fantastic and realistic characters. Very lonely characters, mind. Augustine and Sully are experiencing their own forms of isolation — the former in the Arctic, purposefully separated from the rest of humanity; the latter on a space vessel returning from a mission to Jupiter. They have both distanced themselves from society and their pasts — Sully, from a marriage that collapsed; Augustine from a world he never really felt he fit in. We learn a bit about their pasts (more about Augie’s), and that helps inform the story and their introspection.

So why didn’t I love the novel? I am frequently swayed by well-written, realistic characters and excellent prose, after all. Well, there is something distant about the writing. It’s supposedly an intimate look at what’s going on inside Sully’s and Augie’s heads, but there is definitely a distance, the feel of a dispassionate observer throughout the story. Perhaps this is a result of Augie’s own personality, but it doesn’t track for Sully. In the end, while the prose pulled me through to the end, this sense of disconnection prevented me from fully becoming invested in the tale.

I would say that Good Morning, Midnight is certainly worth reading. The author’s prose is excellent. I have read better novels in the sub-genre, though. I’ll certainly be back for Brooks-Dalton’s next book, whatever it may be, and I fully intend to read Motorcycles I’ve Loved at some point in the not too distant future.

A cautious recommendation, therefore.

*

Good Morning, Midnight is published by Random House in the US on August 9th; and in the UK by W&N on August 11th.

Advertisements

One thought on “Review: GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT by Lily Brooks-Dalton (Random House/W&N)

  1. I just read the book and am so confused. Iris was the child left behind to be taken care of by Augustine. Almost the last line of the book while in the Soyuz Harper says to Sully “Iris”. They are not the same are they, how could that be? Please help.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s