The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

A review of the literary science-fiction novel The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

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The Age of Miracles is about the day the world slows down.

Julia is eleven. She lives with her parents, she plays soccer, she goes to school; she harbours a crush on Seth, the cute skateboarding neighbour. Her life is normal, peaceful, happy. Until the day the earth’s rotation begins to slow. Days surpass twenty-four hours; the sun rises in the afternoon; the birds die; whales beach themselves; plants wilt; crops perish. In the midst of chaos, Julia retreats into herself, watching everyone around her, and how the slowing affects her family and friendships.

This was an odd one. But not in a good way.

I was interested in the concept, and it was explored pretty in-depth. I liked how real the general population’s reactions were; almost immediately there are spin-off groups who rebel against the clock and choose rather to follow the natural but wildly erratic course of the sun. Those groups are treated first with wary disdain, then outright violence and prejudice; and that was a detail of the world-building I really liked, as it felt both interesting and a natural progression of events.

However, due to the book focusing so much on the effects on the whole planet, it felt like it was trying to be both scientifically plausible and deeply character-driven, and the characters were the weakest part for me, so it fell very flat. One of the cover quotes compared The Age of Miracles to The Lovely Bones, and I can see why because both books feature a young female narrator who observes their family and friends in the wake of a traumatic event. The Lovely Bones, however, has a beautiful lyricism, and the flatness of the narrator is justified because Susie is literally dead. Julia, however, is very much alive. She just has no life of her own.

Another factor is the stakes. Both astronomically high—the world as Julia knows it is ending—and grindingly low—the daylight’s messed up, everything’s going to crap, but will cute boy Seth ever notice Julia exists? There’s nothing personal driving the story along. There’s nothing in Julia’s life that makes me wonder what’s going to happen next. If Julia was an interesting, well-drawn, fleshed-out character, I might actually care if Seth is ever going to talk to her, but she’s little more than an omniscient narrator with a name.

I didn’t realise how underwhelming this book was until I started thinking properly about it, but that’s my take away from it: thoroughly underwhelmed.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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