Book review: Last One at the Party by Bethany Clift
Last One at the Party - Bethany Clift
A novel about a pandemic that rips through the population of the world with devastating consequences is probably the last thing you want to pick up for a light read at the minute. On the other hand, the question of how we deal with the reality of such an event, one even worse that Covid-19, is something that you probably need to consider. You might think you cope a little better than the last person standing narrator of Last One at the Party, but how does anyone know how they would react to the realisation that they may be the only person in the world left alive?
Although harsh lessons have been learned from the 2020-21 Covid-19 pandemic, there is nothing that can prepare the scientists for 6DM when it hits in 2024 and rapidly wipes out the entire population of the United States. It's commonly known as 6DM because scientists don't really have time to analyse it, since 6 Days Maximum is as long as anyone infected is expected to last before their body organs disintegrate, resulting in a painful death. Britain holds out briefly because it is an island and quick to lock down this time, but the inevitable happens and in less than six weeks everyone is dead.
Everyone, that is, except the unnamed narrator, who doesn't quite know why she has been spared while everyone else has either died in a painful and horrible way, or else has taken T600 suicide pills that have been mercifully provided by the government. The BBC continue to broadcast, even though everyone has left the building and is now probably dead, but they've left the lights on and systems running in the faint hope that someone is alive and needs to broadcast that to the world. As you can imagine, the narrator's experience of the rapid end of the world is initially devastating, but as far as Last One at the Party is concerned, it's just the beginning.
No one knows how they might react to such a situation, but you'd like to think that as the last living human being you might take on the mantle with a little more gravity and decorum than the narrator. After taking care of her loved ones she gets blind drunk, finds an expensive hotel, watches all the porn channels, loots Harrods for vintage Krug, handbags, scarfs and then goes on a cocaine binge and a disco in the house where her friend is lying dead. Would you really find it suitable to go on a bucket list tour of London attractions that have taken on a new perspective in a post-populated world, one still populated by rotting corpses? Would you really find it appropriate to take the opportunity to try on one of Diana's dresses at the V&A?
The narrator's behaviour is strange and not entirely sympathetic, but she does finally decide that it might be an idea to find out if there is anyone else out there. She determines to drive from London to the tip of Scotland to find out, and of course, why just take any car when you can ride a Porsche or a Land Rover. Admittedly, ill-prepared, pampered, posh middle class, with no life skills for what lies ahead, she makes many mistakes, like wearing Ugg boots on her first expedition out of London, but why should the only person left alive just happen to be that resourceful together survivalist that you always come across in disaster movies and novels? It could be someone like the narrator. Or you. Or me, god forbid.
It's the early part of the novel that works best. Bethany Clift's clarity of description of the final days and immediate aftermath is chilling in the speed in which it happens. After that unfortunately, the novel becomes not so much a survivalist struggle in a dangerous new world as much as road trip voyage of self discovery, looking back at the person she was, with lots of pointless reminiscences of makeovers and parties, taking some time to consider the person she needs to become to deal with the extraordinary circumstance of being the last person left alive.
In between though there are frightening glimpses of the reality of a post-pandemic apocalypse, and there's enough intrigue to see if she will discover another human being to keep you reading Last One to the Party. It soon becomes obvious however that the circumstances of considering yourself the last human alive is more of an excuse for total self absorption and, as it gets to the core of its true nature of what it wants to deal with, and that turns out to be not very interesting, surprising or original.