What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours until day becomes night and night becomes day?
What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life…?
One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.
But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different—unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.
The Age of Miracles is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Julia. Through her, we see the initial announcements that the rotation of the earth has started to slow, extending the length of the day by minutes at first, and then by hours and days. There is speculation from scientists as to the cause and, perhaps more importantly, what the effect of the slowing might be. While this is a global disaster, Thompson Walker offers the reader a localised view of these events – we hear a little about what other nations are doing in passing, but the focus is on Julia’s Californian neighbourhood.
Telling a story from the perspective of a child can be off-putting, but I liked Julia and I thought that her perspective worked well in The Age of Miracles. I particularly liked that the author avoids making Julia seem older than she is – she is an eleven year old girl beginning to navigate the minefield that is adolescence, and her concerns include her first crush, her first bra, and why her best friend, Hannah, is no longer talking to her. That’s not to say that her concerns are purely trivial – she is both observant and intelligent, but without being a prodigy or precocious in any way. Julia can see the effects of the slowing but the potential horror of the situation is downplayed, as Julia doesn’t fully grasp, and is partly shielded from, the full impact, giving a more optimistic outlook than the reader would get from an adult’s point of view.
One thing that strikes me when I recall that period of time is just how rapidly we adjusted. What had been familiar once became less and less so.
While the Earth’s rotation may be slowing, life must go on, and Thompson Walker explores the impact that such a scenario might have on our day to day lives. I liked the concept of “clock time” which is introduced to encourage people to maintain a 24-hour day that is no longer in sync with light and dark as days – defined by the rotation of the earth – extend beyond 24 hours. There might be times when you get up and it’s dark, or have to sleep in blazing sunshine, and yet people adapt quickly. Of course, some people choose not to adopt clock time, instead adhering to “real time”, their waking and sleeping hours becoming gradually longer. This creates a them and us scenario, with those who adhere to real time shunned and often forced to move away to the new, impromptu settlements that have appeared to house those wishing to abandon a 24-hour day. It’s a fascinating exploration of how such a change might impact us, and the measures that might be taken to maintain some semblance of normality.
The Age of Miracles is a wonderful novel that is an intriguing piece of speculative fiction with coming of age angle. Recommended for those who like a more gradual apocalypse in which the world doesn’t immediately descend into chaos.
Also by Karen Thompson Walker: