Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Last Woman in the World by Inge Simpson

Fear is her cage. But what’s outside is worse…

It’s night, and the walls of Rachel’s home creak in the darkness of the Australian bush. Her fear of other people has led her to a reclusive life as far from them as possible, her only occasional contact with her sister.

A hammering on the door. There stand a mother, Hannah, and her sick baby. They are running for their lives from a mysterious death sweeping the Australian countryside – so soon, too soon, after everything.

Now Rachel must face her worst fears to help Hannah, search for her sister, and discover just what terror was born of us. . . and how to survive it.

I felt slightly breathless reading this story of destruction and apocalypse. So much so, that by the end I had very mixed feelings. I was glad to have finished the book, because I’d been feeling a low level panic and despair. However, it was so prescient and close to our current existence that I felt it needed to be read, however uncomfortable. This is a book borne of a fury that we treat our world the way we do. I write this as I’m laid on my bed – I’ve been unwell this week – watching Storm Eunice attempting to tear the roofing felt from the neighbour’s shed. It was only yesterday that I watched in disbelief as a town in Brazil was completely engulfed by a massive landslide. As I think of the state of our politics, the dreaded virus and the scenes from the Australian bushfires that left me distraught I know that the world Inga Simpson is writing about isn’t something far off future Armageddon. This could happen tomorrow. It is our now, not our future.

Yet still I veer between thinking I must do better and feeling that whatever I do will never count while those who actually have power can hold a ‘landmark’ climate change summit and not decide on anything worth the paper it’s typed on. Simpson has clearly felt a need for change for a very long time and this novel is her retort to our complacency and really does hit home. She uses the medium of the thriller to make our hearts race, our fears run rampant and spells out that this is our future if we don’t change right now. Where the films and books of my childhood concentrated on possible threats from outside – nuclear war in War Games, aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien. Here the threat is so real, because it’s already coming true. It comes from within. We are killing our own planet.

The setting is the city of Canberra, but it’s the incredible and unique flora and fauna of the Australian bush that’s so powerful in the novel. The author’s love for her homeland is so evident in her descriptions of the bush and it’s clear that the basis of the novel comes out of those terrible bushfires and the pandemic. I felt her pain at the loss of wildlife and their habitat. There are themes that flow through all of the authors writing – solitude, the need for quiet, a dislike of large crowded spaces and a total mistrust of elements of modern culture such as social media. The way Rachel feels as one by one these aspects of modern life disappear shows exactly how dependent we’ve all become on constant information and confirmation of events, beliefs and what other’s think.

‘It was a world gone silent. Silenced. There was no help. No news. No advice. No solution.’

I know people who might implode if they were left by themselves without a constant echo chamber of validation. Who do we become when our self is not reflected back to us? Already we can all see people’s standard of living slipping, their security eroded, their sense that someone is in charge and knows what to do about this, is shattered. We have all slipped down the scale from trying to be fully self-actualised beings, to being unable to keep ourselves warm. If there is no one to tell us how to cope we become very basic versions of a human – scraping by to survive and without the tools we once had to be self sufficient or alone. These are the aspects Simpson considers between the action and the conclusion the reader draws might be confronting and upsetting for some. At the very least it will make you think about the way you treat the world and your fellow humans, especially those who have to live in the future we’ve created. I have to say I felt like a product of capitalism when I read the following section:

‘Now it was too late and Isaiah, if he survived, would never see half the things she had seen, taken for granted, gulped down.’

There’s a great thriller here that is addictive, frightening and full of heart-stopping moments. Underneath is just as powerful, but quietly so. For this reader, that made it even more profound.

Published 24th Feb 2022 by Sphere.

Author:

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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