My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
As the sun finally makes an appearance in the vast plains of ice in the Arctic, Augustine looks back at his life thinking of the man he was before. He is old now, nearing the end of his days. Yet he has found himself willingly marooned in the research base along with unexpected company in the form of a young girl named Iris. The base was evacuated after news of a catastrophic event forced scientists and researchers back to their homes.
Meanwhile, a team of astronauts on Aether is just returning from a 2-year-long journey to Jupiter. Mission Specialist Sully is operating the comm. pod when one day, Mission Control stops transmitting. As the astronauts move closer and closer to Earth, the silence grows louder and desperation leads to panic.
“When the world stops listening, who do you become?”
In this hybrid-of-genres book, Lily Brooks-Dalton brings up philosophical themes in the form of a literary science fiction debut that only promises more brilliance yet to come from the author. The story is told in a third person past tense perspective following two protagonists, Augie and Sully. The plot rapidly narrates the story of two different settings in the span of one year in which a catastrophic event of unknown substance has plagued Earth. The chapters alternate between the Canadian Arctic circle and Aether, a spaceship somewhere very far from home. We also get glimpses of the past in the form of memories of the two protagonists who are forced to recount their lives events and choices in the face of the extreme conditions they are asked to deal with.
The rosy glow spilled over the horizon and seeped into the icy blue of the tundra, casting indigo shadows across the snow. The dawn climbed like a wall of hungry fire, delicate pink deepening to orange, then crimson, consuming the thick layers of cloud one at a time until the entire sky was burning. He basked in its muted glow, his skin tingling.
The strongest and most striking feature of this novel that tremendously uplifts the narration is the whimsical prose. Quite amazingly, while this is Lily Brooks-Dalton’s first published novel, her writing style has a ripe flow of true artistry and raw talent. It’s – to put it simply – beautifully written. There are many readers who find literary fiction too slow and it is a concern for some whether they will enjoy a slow, paceful narration that circles around the same points and gradually wraps itself around the story but for I am one of those people who really enjoy this lyrical prose. The scenes that the author presents bring forth the elements that I would expect to see, feel and hear as if I were living in this book. It truly sticks it in The North Water‘s face with the dynamic captures of nature that it achieves and which Ian McGuire is missing in his novel of the same setting and environment. It tells me: it is possible to bring forth tangible, alive elements through words in a 250 pages novel. Lily Brooks-Dalton does it, and she does it well.
He had never been satisfied and never would be. It wasn’t success he craved, or even fame, it was history: he wanted to crack the universe open like a ripe watermelon, to arrange the mess of pulpy seeds before his dumbfounded colleagues. He wanted to take the dripping red fruit in his hands and quantify the guts of infinity, to look back into the dawn of time and glimpse the very beginning. He wanted to be remembered.
The roadmap that Lily Brooks-Dalton had in mind when crafting the tale of Sully and Augie is brilliant and poignant at the same time. The author has a clear beginning and a straight path to where she wants to go with her novel and let me tell you, it is a wonderful idea. The mistakes people make and the choices the follow to what they think makes them happy. Where people end up in unexpected places in their life and reflect back on it. Unfortunately, the execution of this part is not as subtle and successful as the artist’s talent could promise. The big revelation moments of the book turned out to be predictable. My first guess about Augie’s situation turned out to be the correct one at the end and that is always a disappointment for me. But, it’s not the author’s idea that is to blame here. As I said, I think that the conception of the story was just wonderful. The novel lost points in the execution.
Her sleep had been full of Jupiter ever since the survey last week: that overwhelming, unstoppable girth; the swirling patterns of the atmosphere, dark belts and light stripes rolling in circular rivers of ammonia crystal clouds; every shade of orange in the spectrum, from soft, sand-coloured regions to vivid streams of molten vermillion; the breathtaking speed of a ten-hour orbit, whipping around and around the planet like a spinning top; the opaque surface, simmering and roaring in century-old tempests.
After I pondered on the question of what exactly disturbed my reading experience I came to the conclusion that Lily Brooks-Dalton made some faulty decision moves that hindered the progression of the story. Augustine is experiencing loneliness and aloneness with Iris. The decision of providing Augustine with the company of one person led to the advantage of us following his character in more depth without ever getting the feeling that he is unjustifiably the sole focus of his parts of the novel. At the same time, there comes the disadvantage of the author struggling to present Augie’s character since there are very limited dialogues and projection of Augie’s self to another person. Who is Augustine really? We never really get to know him. Back at Aether, there are six crew members which gives the advantage of getting to know Sully with the help of character reflection through other people’s eyes. Unfortunately, it’s not done well and we don’t get to really know Sully either. There is too much repetition of the same five aspects of each protagonist’s personality but the author fails to unfold them beyond their five thoughts, desires, memories and ideas. Additionally, the novel is crippled by focusing way too much on Sully and not on the other members of the spaceteam. Generally, this debut is burdened by smaller and bigger elements that might be indicative of a first-time novelist but at the same time I am really appreciative and amazed by the intentions and ideas that Lily Brooks-Dalton brought to the table.
She floated forward, unburdened, into the certainty that she was following the path she was meant to, that she was supposed to be here, that she was a tiny and intrinsic piece of universe beyond her comprehension.
The author plays with some tropes and some work but most of them don’t. Good Morning, Midnight is an emotional novel and allows room for self-reflection and philosophical questions to arise. It seems that I cannot get a debut novel to rise above a 3-star rating but to me these 3 stars are a great indication that the author has much talent to show. If Lily Brooks-DaltonLily Brooks-Dalton writes another novel, I will be very excited to get my hands on it and I’d like to urge readers to give her debut a look.
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BookDepository: Good Morning, Midnight