Good Morning, Midnight | Lily Brooks-Dalton | 2016 (11 August) | W&N | 272p | Review copy | Buy the book
Augustine is a man who has lived his life removed from all attachments, commitments and relationships, ready to travel across entire continents just to escape the voice of longing in his heart. Now, an old man, approaching the end of his days, he has reached as far as he can go – the Arctic where he observes the heavens. The world is so far away but one day it arrives in the form of a panicked evacuation of the science station. Something terrible is happening to the Earth. There can be only one plane out. But while all of the other scientists rush home to spend whatever time there is left with their families, Augustine stays behind. Now he has achieved what he always thought he wanted – completed isolation. Yet, as the sun makes its first appearance on the horizon, marking the end of the long Arctic winter, Augustine discovers that he is not as alone as he had thought. A child, Iris, has been left behind.
Meanwhile, far out in the solar system, Mission Specialist Sullivan (Sully), is about to return to Earth from Jupiter where she and her fellow crew members have been conducting a historical, extraordinary survey of the planet and its moons. But the celebratory mood aboard the Aether stalls when Mission Control suddenly falls silent. And it’s not just Mission Control. No sounds at all can be heard from what was once the solar system’s noisiest planet but is now every bit as silent as all of the others.
Good Morning, Midnight is the powerfully moving tale of how a few people, very possibly the last survivors of Earth, endure the silence and loneliness of a future that is no longer certain. We move between two strikingly beautiful and remote environments, the Arctic and space, both untouched by whatever has turned the lights off on Earth. The interaction of the characters with these environments is key to the atmosphere and mood of the novel as these survivors learn to find comfort where they can. The fact that these environments are also dangerous and potentially – if not probably – deadly adds to the uncertainty of mankind’s survival.
This is not a typical apocalyptic novel. We never discover what has happened. We are as isolated from events as anyone else in the novel. This is instead a moving and haunting, beautifully-written, tale of human endurance, with Augustine and Sully spending as much time reflecting on their past, facing up to their regrets, as they worry about the present and future. While Sully has to contend with the job at hand of getting her spaceship back to an Earth that may or may not be waiting for them, Augustine, an old man, must fight to give Iris some kind of future. And that is how the novel is shaped – the quest of both characters to make sense of their lives now that it is so clear that memories may be all they have left.
Once I realised that my expectations were not going to be met – I was expecting an apocalyptic SF thriller of some sort – I found myself absolutely hooked on the beauty of this novel. The environments are stunningly drawn, the bleak beauty of the Arctic contrasting with the wonder of Jupiter and its moons, and they are matched by two fascinating characters whose voices, lives, regrets and hopes are captivating.
I didn’t find it perfect. The ending (or at least one half of the ending) left me conflicted, even a little frustrated, and, to be honest, I still can’t decide what to make of it. Nevertheless, I found Good Morning, Midnight to be a compelling, eloquent and memorable read for lots of different reasons, not least the stunning writing and the complex and intriguing characters of Augustine and Sully, and I’m so glad I read it.