I loved the concept of The Last One; what if you were taking part in a reality show and something happened to the outside world, something big, and you were oblivious? What if you assumed everything you heard was just part of the show? The very first page shows the reader something Zoo doesn’t, that a deadly disease takes down the production crew; that the contestants are on their own.
The chapters alternate between the filming of the show, In the Dark, and the present from the perspective of one contestant, named Zoo by the producers. She’s not on the show for the money but instead she wants one last adventure, one last bit of irresponsibility, before she settles down and starts a family, a family she’s not sure she’s ready for. We learn a little about her background, but not much, and it focuses mostly on how happy she and her husband are, how much they love each other. In the reader’s mind, there’s the constant reminder that he could be dead and she wouldn’t know.
Hours and hours of walking; who has the patience for so much walking? It’s unwatchable. All that walking, all that struggle, condensed into a single subtitle: HOURS LATER.
The narrative from the production company’s point of view highlights a lot of what is fake about reality TV. They choose personas for the contestants and edit the footage to maintain them, even if they stray far from their original selves. In these chapters, the characters are referred to by nicknames, based on their occupations, further dehumanising them and emphasising those personas. They are playing a part, even if they don’t know it.
In the early chapters the producers seem obsessed with appearance. More time is taken in describing what they look like than who they are, in contrast to Zoo’s descriptions which use their real names. The cast is diverse but in an engineered way that makes sure they tick all the boxes. They bring in Waitress to be the red head, but also play the bimbo character. There are hints that another character is there partly for looks.
Honestly, the use of present tense for the entire book didn’t really work for me. I struggled to get into the style at first and it irks me a bit that despite the narrative going back and forward in time, it’s always present tense. I mean it kind of worked for the production company in the way that it could have been like stage directs, explaining what’s happening as it’s happening. There’s one particular scene near the end where it was put to good use, but overall it just jarred a little.
You might think our protagonist is a bit slow on the uptake, convinced that everything going on around her is a construct of the show. I was about to get annoyed with her until I remembered some experiments Derren Brown did, how people can be manipulated into believing something’s real, even something they believe is impossible. Taken from Zoo’s point of view, she thought she was in a TV show that some felt had already crossed the line in terms of taste, where reality and staging combine. It was known to be a big budget show, she can be given for assuming everything is there to create a narrative.
Are there enough people left for the proper nouns of history to matter?
Considering how little we know about some of the characters, I became surprisingly attached to them. It gives you plenty to think about, how we perceive people on TV but also what would our reactions to an actual apocalypse be? Have we become so blasé about seeing it in fiction, would be believe it if it happened?
The Last One is published by Michael Joseph and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 14th July 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.