Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton || Why Characters Need Agency

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Pages: 259
Genre: Post-apocalyptic literary fiction
Publication Date: August 2016
Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

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.


  1. I'm sorry you didn't like this one more! I actually loved this one and gave it 5 stars. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of character-driven books, so I can see how people might get bored with this one.

  2. The cover is gorgeous! Doesn't it remind you of the cover for Station Eleven?
    This book sounds interesting but it definitely not my cup of tea-- I can get bored with character driven books even on the best of days so I'm skipping this one. The paragraph quotes you posted are beautiful though!

  3. Hmm. I'm perplexed that you didn't mention the parallel to your own life. Is it because you have secret lovers I don't know about? Or is it because the pursuits of advanced degrees didn't dominate your life like I imagine they did?

  4. I have sadly heard the same thing about this book- not finding out what the apocalypse was, no real action, etc, and that kind of turned me off to it. Especially since I love the cover and was very tempted to get it just for that too! It does sound well written and all that, but I think I'd be bored too. Bummer really.

  5. This reminds me a little of Station 11. I also had an unpopular opinion on that book. I didn't like it. Great review!

  6. I felt the same way about this book! I was SO bored with everything and I wished the characters would DO something! I also hated never knowing anything about what happened to the world.

  7. As well written as it is, I think I would be let down by the lack of something happening. If this is a post-apocalyptic situation with only two people on Earth, surely there’s going to be some harrowing situations and dire circumstances that lead to *some kind* of action. The lack of that would likely leave me dissatisfied.

  8. I love the cover. I want to take a photograph like that. :) The book does sound kinda boring. Plus, with only 4 people left, that's not enough of a gene pool so however long they survive is only delaying the end of the human species a short while. Rather depressing.

  9. I did a sort of mini-review on this recently and you explained it so much better! I hear ya on the lack of action, but for me the fact that the book was so short was okay. I would not have been able to handle 500 pages of that! So I was able to appreciate the book for what it was before I got too bored, but I was also left frustrated by the lack of answers. So many questions!!!

  10. I love a good post apocalyptic book...Gotta check this one out!

  11. Glad I am not the only one who disliked it! Loved your act vs react point and the plot twists not being twisty. I do a podcast about books made into movies... and this one was! In our episode next week I am going to quote you becuase you summed it up perfectly :)