I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Last One: A Novel by Alexandra Oliva
Published by Ballantine Books on July 12th 2016
Source: the Publisher
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Survival is the name of the game, as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself—and one woman’s mind and body are pushed to the limit. A thrilling, unsettling, high-concept debut novel for readers of Station Eleven and The Passage.
She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all of her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.
But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will either be her triumph or her undoing.
Sophisticated and provocative, harrowing and surprising, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real—how readily we cast our judgments, and how easily we are manipulated.
“The contestants don’t know everything. […] They know no one gets voted off, that this is a race – or, rather, a series of small races during which they accumulate advantages and disadvantages. What they don’t know is that this race does not have a finish line. […] The game will continue until only one person remains, and the only way out is to quit.”
When twelve individuals sign up for a wilderness survival television show called In the Dark, they never could have imagined that they’d actually be fighting for their lives. While the show continues, a fierce contagion of unknown origin is decimating the population of the outside world which they’ve been disconnected from. As we see through the eyes of the contestants, things begin to change in shocking ways, the clues they find and the challenges they’re given, but this is still just a game… right?
I don’t watch a lot of television in general and I especially don’t watch a lot of reality television despite its massive increase in popularity in recent years. The Last One has been recommended to fans of reality television, however, this is definitely not a requirement because I still found this to be a most curious and unique take on the typical post apocalyptic tale. There are twelve contestants but the story is told primarily from the point of view of a female dubbed ‘Zoo’ by the shows producers seeing as she works at a wildlife sanctuary. All individuals are given nicknames: there’s Biology, Carpenter Chick (originally known as Asian Chick), Tracker, Black Doctor, Waitress, Rancher, Exorcist, Air Force, Cheerleader Boy, and Banker. The names are clearly only given as an easily identifiable label without giving consideration to the fact that these individuals have actual names, but this is a reality television show they’re a part of after all. The story switches between the start of the competition and to the time when the competition was over, yet the contestants, mainly Zoo, were quite literally left in the dark. This build-up to knowing what she underwent in the competition becomes vital to understanding how it’s possible for her to have endured the things she did while still smoothing these incidents over mentally, assuring herself that this isn’t real, it’s just a prop for the show.
‘Nothing can be worse than what they’ve already put me through. I’d never choose this, not again. But I’m here and I’m a woman of my word and I promised myself I wouldn’t quit.’
Zoo is a highly developed female character despite the fact that we primarily see her from a would be position behind the lens of a camera. If the world hadn’t been ending and the show had actually gone on, she would have been my bet for last one standing. Oliva’s writing was first-rate in describing the psychological trauma that Zoo withstands in sorting through fact and fiction when the two become muddied. She convinces herself despite clear contradictions that this is still the game in a failed attempt to shelter her from the reality of her situation. Making reality television as the primary plot point as well as the inclusion of snippets of a chat forum where viewers are able to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the episodes was a crafty way of integrating a modern tale with credible post-apocalyptic elements. The story may not have delved into the origins of the contagion, however, The Last One smartly focused on the psychological aspects of a modern society being confronted with the world ending instead.
It would be easy to say that post-apocalyptic stories are overdone what with the hoards of them in existence but The Last One only confirms that it’s still a genre worth reading.