I’m not a big reader of novellas, especially short novellas, preferring instead to wallow in a slowly unfolding tale of at least 400 pages; I am a self-professed lover of the Brick Book. This week, though, I was caught short (if you pardon the expression). I had just finished one novel by an author and I was then desperate to read the next but had to wait an hour or two until I could get my hands on it. My kindle came to the rescue for the commute home courtesy of The Last Day on Earth by R.M. Allinson. While I might not be a lover of the short story, this is more than compensated for in this case by a deep appreciation of the apocalypse and so I dived in.
Allinson presents a day in the life of an Australian family, comprising 25-year-old Lucy and her parents Liz and Bill, integrated with flashbacks of events that took place two months ago. It was then that the President of the United States revealed to the world that man’s time on the planet was done. An asteroid called Cecilia would hit in two months’ time and its impact would be more devastating than that which wiped out the dinosaurs. And so, on this last day on earth, we watch Lucy in particular, but also her parents, deal with the reality of losing everything, including their dreams, in the oblivion of a random strike from space. Goodbyes to friends are said, memories are relived, regrets and grief laid bare. But through it all Lucy never despairs. Nobody despairs. Aside from accounts of mild anarchy after the news of Earth’s fate was made known, this is an end of days scenario in which at least one family has made its peace while still hoping for the best.
The Last Day on Earth rather confirmed my unsuitability as a reader of short novellas. At 68 pages long there was just enough to make me care about the characters, to feel for their situation and to dread the outcome, but it was far too brief to give me all that I wanted in terms of character and story. I couldn’t help but feel that the story had been speedily written and with a tone that was slightly too flippant for the subject, albeit perfectly suitable for a novella you’ll finish in an hour. The fact that I was disappointed by the ending didn’t help my overall dissatisfaction.
I have no doubt that The Last Day on Earth would have made an excellent full-length novel and Allinson would have done a fine job of holding my attention for 300 pages at least. I regretted there wasn’t more and that the characters hadn’t been given more time to experience the situation they found themselves in, or to explore its impact on their relationships with one another. Some explosions and fireballs would have been good. But it was not to be. The Last Day on Earth is a short novella. It is what it is and the fact that it left me crying out for more is possibly just as much a compliment as it is a complaint.
As an aside, if you’re after a cathartic two-hour end of world experience, then I can recommend the film Melancholia. It still haunts me.