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The Last: A Novel (2019)

by Hanna Jameson

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2212489,162 (3.48)10
For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war--along with twenty other survivors--who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel's water tanks. Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife's text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he's waiting in the lobby of the L'Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That's all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black--and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange. Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can't bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel's water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl. As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
I pre-ordered this book, based on positive reviews of ARCs.

I was hooked by the idea of a murder mystery being investigated by an American academic stranded in a remote Swiss hotel when a nuclear war kicks off.

The book arrived in my audible library today and I dived right in.

I abandoned the book at 10%, with the body discovered but the murder investigation not yet underway, because nothing about the setting made any sense.

I think the problem is that I lived in Switzerland for sixteen years and I'm very familiar with its hotels, with its government and with its arrangements in the event of a nuclear war.
Hanna Jameson seems to be writing about an alternative Switzerland that I've never visited.

The real Switzerland is a densely populated and there are no hotels that are remote in the Amerian sense of the word. There are always villages and towns nearby, even in the mountains. Local government is strong in Switzerland. The local Commune would never leave people abandoned at a hotel. The Civil Defence organisation would manage allocating people to local nuclear bunkers. Every village would have a pharmacy, often two or three, so you'd never have to head out to a "superstore" to find medical supplies. The hotel would hold the passports of all guests so their occupations and personal details would be known whereas, in the book, we get a list of "occupation unknown" statements.

The hotel in the book has fourteen floors and almost a thousand rooms. This is very unlikely. Switzerland isn't Vegas. You don't get hotels this large except in the biggest cities and even then they're rare. A hotel that size would have hundreds of staff and strong ties to the local community. Hanna Jefferson seems to be writing about a big resort hotel in Maine à la "The Shining".

Then there's basic physics. The hotel manager decides to save (as in store up) electricity by cutting power to floors above a certain height. How does this save electricity? Hotels are not battery powered in Switzerland. This is like Tom Sawyer painting faster because he's running out of paint.

The only person who is actually described as Swiss in this book has a very American name. Then we have people described as Swiss-Russian. This doesn't exist. I can see Swiss French and Swiss German but there is no Swiss-Russian.

I should probably find these things less distracting than I do but if you decide to set a novel in a real place, some basic research would help. If I can't believe the setting, why should I believe anything else?

Perhaps I'd have stuck with this if the main character hadn't been such a zero-charisma wimp. An academic historian who seems to lack the ability to think things through. Perhaps he's just drifting along in shock but that doesn't make him a great choice as the POV to write the story from.

Maybe there's a fascinating murder mystery here, which, if it were reset on an abandoned space station or a hotel in Alaska, I'd find fascinating. I'll never know as I've already returned the book to Audible. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
I seriously loved this novel. The blurbs had me at apocalypse/mystery, with nuclear bombs dropping, though not on the primary characters, I loved how it all unfolded quickly, and plausibly. I thought the tension was just perfectly done throughout the novel, intermixed with a prolonged sense of aftermath. No, the lead character/historian Jon didn’t deal with things well, and did some stupid stuff (drugs/drinking). They were coping mechanisms, and he’d never run into this situation before, so he did what he could with what he had. I mean, do you honestly think you could do much better in this situation? I don’t. I do know that the narrator is struggling with his own reactions and trauma response; and though h is aware he is doing so, he's not exactly doing so with great success. But he reflects upon these things and engages with others in the hotel, and it all provides interesting food for thought.

There is a very real atmosphere of fearfulness and psychological stress that kept me going throughout the novel, and this was aces. His days are spent chronicling what happens. Then they find the dead girl. So he begins hunting for answers. Can he trust those he’s with? And he cannot forget for one minute that he’s in the middle of an Apocalypse. A historian by trade, Jon takes it upon himself to begin writing the account of the survivors and that is how the narrative is told. This is what he knows, and how he copes with it all. Jon finds salvation in investing his energies in investigating the murder despite others showing little interest. They feel there are greater concerns that face them with the collapse of the world as they know it. For me, this worked so well as a way to tell this story. I loved the feel of this narrative, and how we were able to learn not just what was going on currently but also a bit of the survivor's back stories, as well as some of the history of the hotel itself. Especially when tensions, conflict and suspicions of each other rise to extreme levels between the survivors as supplies run low. A few of the survivors are also keen to ensure that their secrets do not emerge, which may seem to convolute the plot line, but I thought it was a great red herring.
I think this quote from another reviewer perfectly sums up what I felt while I read this novel, and afterwards:
“This is an astonishingly thought provoking novel that provides opportunities to reflect on what might be a real possibility in our contemporary world. Jameson's depiction of a strife ridden group of survivors feels desperately authentic, particularly as we are presented with aspects of the worst of humanity. In this bleak and unsettling read, the author provides a philosophical and human exploration of life and death, with ethical and moral dilemmas in a post-apocalyptic scenario. With sincere hopes that the outlined nightmare in this novel never come to pass, I found the focus on a group of survivors fascinating and horrifying as they turn on each other, whilst the murder mystery elements are suspenseful and gripping. A book guaranteed to make you think. “. — Paromjit, who is found here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2602177602?book_show_action=true&from_...

Edited to add that The marvelous narrator was Anthony Starke, who was new to me. And one I hope I hear more of. His voice is so expressive. There are many nationalities, ages and genders amongst the survivors and Starke has a voice for each of them. He uses different and believable accents for each character, and adjusts the tone and timbre convincing the listener that there are indeed a group of people in the hotel. Simon & Schuster Audio should use him more often.

I’m giving this wonderfully excellent novel 4 stars, and will continue to recommend it to others.

***To those of you who think this novel’s ending was rushed: the medical issue that arose at the end of the novel DOES come on that quickly, and develops that suddenly. It happened to me, in 2002, from the exact same situation. I’m pretty sure the character in question was suffering from sepsis (which is what happened to me in 2002), and that’s why the other character said the character in question “might not improve”. My own hubby was told I might not last through the night, nearly every night for a week while I was in ICU. The character in question had all the symptoms I had had of oncoming sepsis, and felt the same way I had felt when this happened. So I felt this ending was not only plausible, but made perfect sense. I just hope the hospital the character in question was in, had the medication needed to help this person live through it. ( )
  stephanie_M | Apr 30, 2020 |
An unsettling premise, particularly in the current climate, which at times was a gripping read. It encompasses a range of genres, which I feel was also its downfall with just too much going on. A slow burner which struggled to bring everything together during the closing stages - leaving the story feel somewhat unfinished.

An enjoyable read, with an interesting premise, but unfortunately didn’t quite live up to its promise.
  SophieLJanssen | Apr 16, 2020 |
THE LAST: A NOVEL by Hanna Jameson is an intriguing look at how people might deal with the end of the world. In this case, starting with a nuclear bomb and a cell phone notification!

Jon Keller and and a group of plucky survivors find themselves stranded in a resort hotel in Switzerland when nuclear bombs are dropped on bigger cities around the world. He and everyone else there are stuck with no access to the outside world-the internet goes down and cell phones no longer work. With no ability to communicate Jon has no idea how his family is faring back in the U.S. On top of all that, the group discovers the dead body of a young girl in the water tank atop the hotel. When was this girl killed and why was her body tossed into the water tank? Will Jon and the others survive, and if so-what will they have to do to do so? You'll have to read this to find out!

I was impressed with the writing style as it was so relatable and it flowed easily throughout. Most of the main characters were fleshed out beautifully, however there were a few more that we never learned much about. I think that was a wise decision-because focusing any more on the lesser members of the group would have detracted too much from the story.

As the characters came to know each other, we came to know them as well. Of course, conflicts between them arose-some more important than others. Political views become involved and depending on where YOU stand on the political spectrum you may or may not enjoy that turn of events. (But isn't it just like people to argue over politics when it's possible that "politics" no longer even exist? Humanity just has to have someone to blame, doesn't it?)

Jon styles himself the journalist of the group and as such collects everyone's stories while he also becomes rather obsessed with the murdered girl. As such, he also becomes a detective of sorts, interrogating people and trying to get justice of any kind for the victim.

There were interesting threads that cropped up during this story-some followed through, some not so much. There was also the constant fear of being attacked by other survivors as well as the very real fears of running out of food and water.

My only issues with this tale were the leads that ended up going nowhere and the fact that the ending seemed to wind up too quickly. I would have liked to have learned more about the possible supernatural aspects, (as in did they exist or not?), and also, a little more about the denouement, which I can't get further into here without spoilers. These items are a bit picayune, but hey, that's how I felt.

Hanna Jameson has a hit on her hands with THE LAST: A NOVEL. It was intriguing and mysterious, while at the same time entertaining and engaging. I hit a certain point during reading when I knew there was no longer any way to put this book down without knowing what happened. I HAD to know and I bet you will need to as well, if you give this book a chance. I highly recommend that you do!

*Thank you to Atria and NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.* ( )
  Charrlygirl | Mar 22, 2020 |
Best for: Anyone who enjoyed Station Eleven, or who likes the post-apocalypse genre and is looking for one aimed at adults.

In a nutshell: Nuclear War has started. Two months later, 20 people remain at a hotel deep into a Swiss forest. A child is discovered dead. History professor Jon decides to document what has happened, and what happens next.

Worth quoting: “A lot of people confuse movement with progress.”

Why I chose it: Buy one get one half off sale. I’d chosen American Marriage, and was scanning for another. This had a recommendation by Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven), so I picked it up.

Review:
What happens when the world ends not from an outbreak of disease, but from a day of nuclear war? If you are nowhere near the blasts, how do you survive? Do you want to survive? What is your life like?

For the guests at this hotel in Switzerland, they have plenty of food, comfortable hotel beds, and water. No internet, and rationed electricity. What do they do? Should they explore beyond the hotel? Try to get to their homes? Do their homes exist anymore?

That’s enough to try to figure out but then a dead girl is found in one of the water towers. Millions - possibly billions - have already died. But this is a death close to home, and for Jon, it means something to try to find justice for her. While also grappling with the existential crisis of a completely different world than the one that existed before he arrived at this hotel for a conference.

The book appears to be suggesting that Trump is why the nuclear blasts happened. This leads to an interesting discussion about the responsibility of those who voted for him. In a nod to the 53% of white women who voted for him in 2016, the one US citizen at the hotel who voted for him is indeed a white women. The characters are complicated - no one is outright evil, everyone appears to be just doing their best in a shitty situation.

I think the only thing that I could take any issue with were a couple of word choices that the US folks in the story made that are very much British English terms: tannoy (megaphone) and mitigating circumstances (which is the specific term for seeking some allowance or delay in an exam or paper because of something beyond a student’s control). I’d never heard either of those terms used in that way until I moved the UK. But that’s really the only thing I could take issue with.

Oh! Sorry, one more thing, which is the publisher’s fault, not the author. The back jacket reads “You and nineteen other survivors hole up in an isolated Swiss hotel. You wait, you survive. Then you find the body. One of your number has blood on their hands. The race is on to find the killer … before the killer finds you.” That’s … not a great description of the book. Yes, there is a murder and yes, the protagonist spends a fair bit of time focused on that. But this isn’t a thriller about finding a murderer, per se. It’s a thriller, but the thriller isn’t just about that, if that makes sense. In fact, I’d argue that’s a side story. So if you’re looking for a straightforward thriller, this isn’t it. But hopefully you’ll still pick it up, because it’s really good.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend ( )
  ASKelmore | Jan 26, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
The Last raises the moral question of whether one isolated murder still matters, given what appears to be the erasure of most of the people on the planet.
 
Even with a world in chaos, people still do what they do—form alliances, keep secrets, make love. They also go to lengths they never imagined they would. Jameson’s premise certainly resonates in our current political climate, and blame for the situation is leveled directly at Tomi because of whom she voted for in the last presidential election even as Jon ruminates that those who voted otherwise (like him) didn’t do enough to stop what happened. A thoughtful, page turning post-apocalyptic tale marred by a disjointed conclusion.
added by Lemeritus | editKirkus Review (Jan 21, 2019)
 
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Epigraph
New antagonists will forever rise and step into the arena, and piece after piece will crumble off our beautiful world, as though it were an ancient ruin through whose decaying walls the wind and rain whistle. Every day another piece will crumble off, until nothing but a heap of stones marks the place where it once stood, in better days. And we take part in the cruel game, under the illusion that we can bring it to a happy conclusion. It saddens me to think what the end will be. —Hans Keilson, The Death of the Adversary
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For Lee, in remembrance
First words
Nadia once told me that she was kept awake at night by the idea that she would read about the end of the world on a phone alert.
Quotations
“A lot of people confuse movement with progress,” Dylan said. “I knew it was a bad idea, but what were we gonna do, barricade them in? They weren’t ready to face any kind of truth.” -Page 23
Logically, there could not have been a nuclear attack on Washington, because it had never happened before. If there had been a nuclear attack, then this was the end, and the world we knew didn’t just end. It didn’t end because that had never happened before. -Page 59
If there is a God, and He isn’t an interventionist, then I think He’d be feeling very disappointed by His failed experiment right about now. -Page 129
“We lost everything because of you. Stupid fucking—” She must have used a French curse word then, because I didn’t recognize it. “Fine. You got something to say as well?” Tomi folded her arms and raised her eyebrows at Van Schaik and Peter. With an expression of total contempt, Van Schaik spat on the floor. “It’s true.” “Oh, fuck you!” Tomi yelled, picking up her plate and striding out of the restaurant. “Where is the salt?” Van Schaik asked again. Lex sat down, her lip trembled, and a few moments later she got up and walked out. Lauren followed her. Everyone was watching us. Not wanting to sit alone with Van Schaik and Peter—who had said nothing and refused to look up from his food—I took my plate across the room to sit with Nathan and Tania, at my usual window table. Tania’s hair was in long braids, wrapped around her head. “Hate to say it,” she said, pushing some bean salad around her plate, “but she has a point.” I didn’t have the energy to argue with her. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to. -Page 135
I’ve also come to realize that the non-Americans are stockpiling resentment. They blame us, Tomi and me, for what happened. They look at us and see one person who voted for this to happen and another who hadn’t done enough to stop it. -Page 137
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For fans of high-concept thrillers such as Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts, this breathtaking dystopian psychological thriller follows an American academic stranded at a Swiss hotel as the world descends into nuclear war--along with twenty other survivors--who becomes obsessed with identifying a murderer in their midst after the body of a young girl is discovered in one of the hotel's water tanks. Jon thought he had all the time in the world to respond to his wife's text message: I miss you so much. I feel bad about how we left it. Love you. But as he's waiting in the lobby of the L'Hotel Sixieme in Switzerland after an academic conference, still mulling over how to respond to his wife, he receives a string of horrifying push notifications. Washington, DC has been hit with a nuclear bomb, then New York, then London, and finally Berlin. That's all he knows before news outlets and social media goes black--and before the clouds on the horizon turn orange. Now, two months later, there are twenty survivors holed up at the hotel, a place already tainted by its strange history of suicides and murders. Those who can't bear to stay commit suicide or wander off into the woods. Jon and the others try to maintain some semblance of civilization. But when the water pressure disappears, and Jon and a crew of survivors investigate the hotel's water tanks, they are shocked to discover the body of a young girl. As supplies dwindle and tensions rise, Jon becomes obsessed with investigating the death of the little girl as a way to cling to his own humanity. Yet the real question remains: can he afford to lose his mind in this hotel, or should he take his chances in the outside world?

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BREAKING: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington
Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn't ignored Nadia's last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon's hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It's clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists? (from amazon.co.uk)
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