It is a long way from The Road, yet the novel is at its strongest when rehearsing the staples of post-apocalyptic fiction: the ways in which people try to cling on to their humanity, and the tensions within the makeshift tribes they find themselves in.
There is a supernatural element that adds something different to the mix without being too intrusive, but it is Jameson’s portrayal, both imaginative and plausible, of how her characters adapt to their new life that makes her novel such compulsive reading.
Nuclear attacks take out major cities and destroy communications until the 20 people remaining at L’Hôtel Sixiėme believe they may be the only survivors. They face food shortages, possible radiation sickness and despair, plus the body of a girl, apparently killed before the catastrophe, which has been found in a water tank. Jon, who takes it upon himself to provide a record of events, is determined to find the killer. Although it’s a fascinating exploration of a world in which “consequences no longer existed”, The Last is rather less successful as a crime narrative, due to a hasty and not entirely coherent ending.
In a Swiss hotel, miles from anywhere, a group of guests and staff hear news of a nuclear strike on Washington. Over the next few hours, cities in the US and Europe are wiped out, forcing the residents of the hotel to decide whether to stay put or risk setting out in search of supplies. An American historian, Jon Keller, tries to distract himself by keeping a journal but it turns into something else when a girl’s body is discovered. Some of his fellow survivors aren’t interested in what appears to be a murder, given the scale of the catastrophe that’s unfolding, but Keller’s mission to find the killer becomes a stand for human values in a brutalised world.