Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House
Length: 272 pages
Author Information: Website
I’m glad I got a chance to read some reviews before tackling Good Morning, Midnight, because it only reaffirmed my suspicions that despite its promise of a “catastrophic event” and its post-apocalyptic setting, the book in truth reads more like an evocative and haunting piece of human drama. It is powerful and moving, which almost makes one feel nostalgically wistful for quieter, simpler times.
The story is told mainly through the perspectives of two characters. Augustine is an elderly astronomer who spent his life traveling the world to make a name for himself, trading away all personal attachments for his ambition. Now, alone and nearing the end of his life, Augustine finds himself making a decision he never thought would come about, but once the choice is made there would be no going back. He’s at his latest research posting, located in a remote Arctic facility, when the unsettling news arrives: something bad is happening out there in the world, and all the scientists are strongly urged to evacuate on the last plane out. With no loved ones to return to and still plenty of work to be done, Augustine refuses to leave, which is how he came to be the only one left at the base while the rest of the planet goes silent. However, shortly afterwards, he comes upon a little girl named Iris, seemingly left behind in all of the commotion. Desperately, he tries to raise an alert on every communications system he can think of, but it’s no use. No one answers.
Meanwhile, Mission Specialist Sullivan is an astronaut aboard a spacecraft called the Aether, finally making her way back home following a years-long research flight through space to study Jupiter. She and her crewmates were not too far from the end of their journey when they lose contact with Mission Control, leaving them all perturbed over what might be happening to their families and friends back on Earth. For Sully, who left behind a young daughter with her ex-husband, the silence troubles her deeply and fills her with guilt, even though she thought she’d come to terms with all the sacrifices she made for her work. The Aether has been so gone so long, everyone on board is eager to be back on Earth again, but what might they find when they arrive, if they can even make it that far?
Granted, Good Morning, Midnight might not be a page-turning read, but it is nonetheless gripping in its own way. It’s one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read, which is even more impressive when you consider how much of its themes focus on the emptiness of isolation and solitude. The characters Augustine and Sully may seem far removed from each other, both literally and metaphorically, but there’s still a strong parallel between their lives, marked by feelings of regret and the fear of the unknown. The people in this book are fragile and imperfect individuals, discovering truths about themselves while they delve into their pasts during moments of vulnerability. In many ways, this was not an easy book to read. My heart ached for the protagonists. Both of them yearn for answers, comfort, reassurance, but it’s clear that neither will find any of those easily. When the end of the world comes, many won’t realize what’s really important until it’s too late.
But while the tone of the book was pretty much what I expected, there were still a few issues which made it difficult for me to get into the story. We never get to find out what the catastrophic event was that presumably wiped out everyone on the planet. A part of me is aware that it’s beside the point, but not knowing a single thing about it still chafed, especially since there were plenty of hints dropped about what it might not be—reports of no radiation poisoning, clear skies above the planet surface, etc. I didn’t go into this one expecting a typical post-apocalyptic novel, but I guess you could say I still wanted the post-apocalypse to have a bigger role in the story. I also anticipated the more laid-back and steady pacing, but certain sections still slowed to a crawl, expounding on character thoughts and motives without adding anything new. The narrative does this a lot, practically spelling out all the connections so that I was really left with no surprises at the end.
Still, Good Morning, Midnight was a good read. The book’s cover depicting a lone tent among the Arctic dunes is a pretty accurate reflection of the story’s tone—a single point of light in the darkness, surrounded by a vast sea of stars. It’s a moody, broody novel which puts emotion ahead of plot, and if that’s something you think you’ll enjoy, I would highly recommend giving it a try.