Karen Thompson Walker: The Age of Miracles (2012)

The Age of Miracles

Ever since Jacquelin Cangro reviewed The Age of Miracles, I felt like reading it. I assumed I would like it but I didn’t expect that I would love it so much. It may seem odd to love an “end of the world” story but The Age of Miracles is so much more. It’s as much the story of a disaster as a coming-of-age tale, an exploration of how we adapt to change and a meditation on the fragility of life on earth. Plus the tone of the whole book is lovely and nostalgic.

The Age of Miracles is told by 11-year-old Julia, an only child who is a bit of a loner and a keen observer. Suddenly, one day, they hear on the news that the rotation of the earth has slowed down and as a result the days have grown longer. At first this is minimal but gradually the days and nights extend until, at the end of the novel 72 hour days are followed by 72 hour nights.

The consequences are massive. Many animals and plants die. After a few months, it’s dangerous to go out during daytime as the sun’s radiation can be fatal. Plants only grow in hot houses, people need protection at all times.

Early on the government decides to disregard daylight and to stay on the usual 24 hour clock time. Opposing groups find this unacceptable and adjust to the sunlight. They stay awake longer, sleep longer. Soon there is hostility between those groups and most of the day timers flee after a while and live in communes outside of the cities.

Julia describes all this in great detail. She’s worried but is also surprised how quickly people get used to these changes. But there are many other things on her mind. She was always a loner but the slowing makes her lose even more friends. She is secretly in love with Seth Moreno who is also a loner  which makes it difficult for them to become friends but once they overcome some obstacles, they spend every minute together.

The tone of Julia’s voice and some hints, indicate that she tells this story looking back. It’s the grown-up Julia who tells about the year during which the biggest changes, in the outside world and in her personal world, take place. It’s the year of her first love, of the near collapse of her parent’s marriage and also the year in which everything anyone took for granted disappears forever.

I know that some people found the book alarming because it obviously touches on subjects like climate change and natural disasters. I was more touched by Julia’s personal story, by the tone of her voice which was infused with sorrow. There are as many scenes of great beauty as there are scenes of damage and loss. Ultimately this is a melancholic story about a long goodbye, goodbye from people, things and habits.

When I started reading, I was a bit afraid, the book would be gimmicky. It’s not. It’s a quiet, moving tale. The unusual event is just a means to tell a much deeper story; a story of change, loss and sorrow inherent to all of our lives.

39 thoughts on “Karen Thompson Walker: The Age of Miracles (2012)

    • I haven’t seen it. I liked this book because it was about so much more but the premise was interesting and she managed to tunr it into an emotinally engaging book.

  1. Sorry to say, I couldn’t buy into this book. I couldn’t decide which was supposed to be the main plot line – the coming-of-age story or the dramatic slowing of the Earth’s rotation – and I didn’t believe in either of them 😦

    • No need to be sorry. 🙂 I suppose it depends on the reader. Some thought the slowing was the main plot, others like me probably rather liked the coming-of-age story.
      The slowing didn’t work for me as such, it was more like an extreme “what if” story. I didn’t find it realistic but it tested a lot fo different things. I really liked it a great deal.

  2. Nice review, Caroline. It is interesting that the author weaves an end-of-the-world story strand with a coming-of-age story strand. It is also interesting to know that the story is told by the grown up Julie. It makes me think of ‘Atonement’. Glad to know that you liked ‘The Age of Miracles’ so much. Thanks for this wonderful review.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I loved it. I wonder if you’d like it as well. At first this looking back irritated me a bit, it felt like a spoiler but there was so much that was still to come.

    • Thanks, Carole. I remember it scared her a bit. I never really thought t was that scary because it was too-far fetched but many of the consequences of the slowing could happen for other reasons.
      I think it’s wonderful. Maybe not everyon’e s cup of tea but if you like it, you like it a lot.

  3. This does indeed sound good.

    I find that stories such as this that are either apocalyptic or fantastic, when done right, can really express important ideas and emotions. Unfortunately such stories are often poorly done and thus many people will shy away from them.

    • I thought she write very well. I didn’t find the idea realistic, of course, but I don’t think that’s what it was about. Let’s face it, nature is scary, with all we know we are still not able to prevent earthquakes and floods. There’s a lot of that fear in the book and it has such a lovely tone.

    • Thanks, Emma. I like coming-of-age novels, they are always nostalgic and this one is as well.
      I’ll visit shortly, I’m curious to find out what you wrote about it.

  4. This was one of my absolute favorite books last year; I’m so glad you loved it! I have never cried so hard while reading as I did during the last 10 pages of this book, and that’s definitely saying something! Great review 🙂

    • Thanks, Leah, I’m glad to know you liked it too. I could imagine it will be on my favourites of 2013 list. I’m not usually moved this easily but that ending is still on my mind, it made me swallow really hard. I was wondering the whole time how she would tie up the book. That ending was just so perfect but very sad.

  5. I’ve been weighing this one up, as the premise intrigues me, but I’m not normally a fan of dystopian fiction. However, if you really liked it then I think I probably will, too. I like the idea of seeing how the situation develops, rather than arriving in the middle of it, as is the way with most of the current climate change novels.

    • Before I started reading I thought it was dystopian as many called it that but after having finished, I think it isn’t really. Rather sci-fi but not even that. I think the idea was just a way to explore all sorts of things under extreme circumstances. I would be really interested to hear what you think of it.

    • Thanks, neer. It’s worth a try, it’s not very long and if you are one of those who likes it, you’ll like it very much.
      I have read Pter Schneider but not Lenz. I hope it’s good.

  6. This sounds so familiar but I can’t think where I might have read about the book. Strangely I sort of like dystopian fiction, though I’ve not read anything from the genre for quite a while. I’ve already gone and requested this from my library. I think the appeal, though, is more that this is a coming of age story, which I love and seem to be very into at the moment! You always capture the essence of books and convey it so well in your posts!

    • Thanks, Danielle, that’s nice of you to say. I could imagine you’d like it. It was really the coming-of-age part which blew me away and the end. I still feel it’s only to some extent dystopian. But I like tem too, usually. I still need to finish The Hunger Games part II and then III.

  7. what do you mean by gimmicky?

    the end of the world is my kind of read. I like your review as you focused it on the coming of age part. It’s an intriguing book, I have recently finished a book about the sun being covered by ring on Mencury, this one is the opposite.

    • With Gimmicky I meant that the author would try very hard to be original without real meaning or depth.
      I think you might like this, although it is very quiet hat’s why I feel it’s less dystopian or sci-fi. It’s more about the emotions and the relationships than about what happens although that is important too. It’s also a love story (not romance) or the story of a friendship.

  8. I’m so glad that you liked this book as much as I did!

    Like you, I’m usually not a fan of dystopian, end of the world stories, but this one is much more than that because of the voice of Julia. The coming of age part of the story makes it completely relatable. That said, the earth slowing had me creeped out for weeks!

    I saw the author at a literary festival last September and she talked about how much research she did into the possible effects of the slowing. She even had astrophysicists and climatologists read the manuscript to verify some of the aspects of the plot.

    • I remember you wrote it scared you. I can’t imagine something like this could happen, maybe that’s why it didn’t scare me so much.
      I’m very glad I discovered it on your blog. I wanted to link to your post but I couldn’t find it. I’m sorry.
      It’s says something about her research in the back of the book. I was quite impressed, he put such a lot of thought into it.
      I hope this will be made into a movie.

  9. I liked this one – more and more as I thought back on it over time, and I find myself recommending it to friends all the time, even though when I read it, it wasn’t a favorite. It gives a lot to think about.The introspective voice of Julia made the story very personal – and much more scarier than most apocalyptic novels I have read. Glad to hear you appreciated it so much.

    • Yes, I did like it quite a bit. I must say, I had a very similar experience. At first I didn’t think it was anything special but after 150 pages or so I liked it more and more and after finishing it I realized how much I really liked it. I still think of it and am constnatly asking people whether they have read it and telling them they should.
      I’m very curious to see how her next novel will be.

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