Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Published: 12th September 2017

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

'Good Morning, Midnight' is one of those special books that cross your path and which you have no prior knowledge of. You start reading and often the story might be a little slow in the beginning and you wonder if you're going to enjoy it, but then bit by bit, it starts to creep up on you and the characters begin to get under your skin and soon you can't put it down and find yourself thinking about it constantly. This is exactly what happened to me with Lily Brooks-Dalton's captivating debut. Originally published in 2017, it has recently been made into a Netflix film starring and directed by George Clooney. As I'm one of the few people that don't seem to have Netflix, I hadn't heard anything at all about it and so there was a definite sense of intrigue when I started reading. 

The story is set in both the Arctic Circle and the wide expanse of space. The chapters alternate between Augustine, an astronomer who is the last man standing on an Arctic research base and whose only company is a young girl called Iris and Sully, an astronaut on a return space flight from Jupiter. Both characters are cut off from civilisation and facing circumstances that are often beyond their control. After reading the first few chapters, I really wasn't sure how both storylines were going to connect but when they eventually did, it was extremely clever and very poignant. 

The story unravels gradually, giving plenty of opportunity to enjoy and appreciate Brooks-Dalton's exquisitely beautiful writing. I loved the descriptiveness of her prose. Also while reading the chapters set in the Arctic, I could almost imagine that I was feeling the same sense of isolation as Augustine. He is at the end of his life and spends a lot of time reflecting on the life choices he has made along the way. Sully, although seemingly living a life that many may envy, hasn't truly started living yet. Separated from her family after always putting her career first, she begins to reflect on how she may want her life to look in the future, in a world that may no longer be recognisable. The story considers what happens at the end of the world and explores how people come to understand their true selves and what really matters to them.     

If you're not a fan of open-ended novels then you may not like the fact that there is no neat end to the story. Answers are not necessarily given and some things are left open to interpretation. Although this isn't something that I normally like, I actually think it worked well here and suited the novel perfectly. Just as the characters don't know what is coming next, we don't know as readers either. 

'Good Morning, Midnight' is a book that I have kept thinking about, long after having finished reading it. Presenting questions about loneliness, life and death, it conjures up emotions in the reader that are at our very core. I would recommend this novel without hesitation and hope that the Netflix adaptation may deliver the book to a much wider audience than it has already had. 

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