Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
Genre: Post-apocalyptic literary fiction
Publication Date: August 2016
I have to admit that this book was a total cover-buy. I was scrolling through Book Outlet, and Good Morning, Midnight appeared on my screen. I was like, “Get in my cart right now. I need you.” Also, I’d really like to be in that tent on the cover. It looks cold, but it’s probably infinitely more interesting than whatever I’m doing with my life at this moment.
Luckily, the synopsis sounded just as good as the cover, so I didn’t feel (too) guilty about buying a book because it’s pretty.
This story is a post-apocalyptic one. An unnamed catastrophe strikes Earth and wipes out most of the population. The only humans left on Earth are Augustine and Iris, a scientist and a child who are living in a remote Arctic research center. The other surviving members of the human race are aboard a spaceship on its way back from Jupiter’s moons. Can the astronauts get home without help from Mission Control? Can Augustine and Iris survive alone in the brutal Arctic?
This isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic book. There’s barely any action. The reader never finds out what happened to the world. The story is mostly about regret. Sully and Augustine—the main characters—have both made regrettable decisions in their lives. They’re both career-focused, and they push people away in order to reach the highest levels of their jobs. Now that most of humanity is dead, their careers are meaningless. No one will care that Sully was the first astronaut to reach Jupiter. No one is around to appreciate the research that Augustine is conducting in the Arctic. The apocalypse forces the characters to reevaluate their lives. They regret abandoning their relationships to focus only on work.
“He had never been satisfied and never would be. It wasn't success he craved, or even fame, it was history: he wanted to crack the universe open like a ripe watermelon, to arrange the mess of pulpy seeds before his dumbfounded colleagues. He wanted to take the dripping red fruit in his hands and quantify the guts of infinity to look back into the dawn of time and glimpse the very beginning. He wanted to be remembered.” – Good Morning, Midnight
In the beginning of the novel, Sully and Augustine are fiercely independent. They can take care of themselves and don’t want long-term relationships. As the story progresses, they learn to appreciate the people around them. They become more loving and patient. It’s a very believable character arc.
“Only the cosmos inspired great feeling in him. Perhaps what he felt was love, but he’d never consciously named it. His was an all-consuming one-directional romance with the emptiness and the fullness of the entire universe. There was no room to spare, no time to waste on a lesser lover. He preferred it that way.” – Good Morning, Midnight
The characters are believable, but they’re also kind of boring. Actually, I got bored often while reading this book. I think it’s because the characters lack agency. They don’t act; they react. They are all trapped in different ways, so they’re not really capable of doing anything. Augustine and Iris are stuck in the Arctic. The crew of the spaceship is stuck in space. They spend most of the book sitting around, feeling sorry for themselves because they can’t correct the mistakes they made in their pasts. Their angst is understandable, but 200-something pages of it didn’t hold my attention. I was tempted to skip ahead to where the characters are doing something.
The “Doing Something” sections are very good. Lily Brooks-Dalton is a talented writer who makes the settings come alive. She captures the lonely danger of the Arctic and of space. I love the scenes where the characters pull themselves out of their depression long enough to be proactive. Even though Mission Control is silent, Sully fixes the ship’s communication satellite when it breaks. She’s still hopeful that she can contact Earth. Augustine doesn’t care if he dies alone in the Arctic, but he loves Iris enough to build a radio and try to contact other survivors.
At the end of the book, there are “plot twists.” We have to talk about those. Judging by the Goodreads reviews, this is an unpopular opinion, but I found the “twists” eye-roll-inducing. I have to put “plot twists” in quotes because the book doesn’t have much of a plot, and the twists aren’t very twisty. I don’t want to wander into spoiler territory, but I think the twists are too predictable and too coincidental.
Good Morning, Midnight has really high ratings on Goodreads, so I guess I’m kind of a black sheep. It’s a well-written and thought-provoking book, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I feel like I spent a lot of time waiting for the characters to do something.
TL;DR: A quiet, introspective story about love, loneliness, and regret. I got bored.