The Age of Miracles is the debut novel of Karen Thompson Walker. The Age of Miracles is a science fiction novel which revolves around the effects of a fictional phenomena where the Earth’s days take increasingly longer to complete. At first only taking a few extra minutes, as the novel progresses the phenomena escalates to the point where the days take up several days and eventually weeks. The population realise that they have a crisis of apocalyptic proportions on their hands. The novel focuses on the impact this crisis has on the general population, as seen through average eleven year old girl, Julia. She is forced to watch as the phenomena affects her life and those around her as she and those around her begin to accept the reality of their situation.
In terms of the plot the story is more of a character drama. The “slowing” crisis is a backdrop through which all the drama of the story occurs. The crisis is shown from the perspective of those experiencing it, as opposed to anyone with the power to try and stop it. In fact, as the story progresses it becomes apparent that the crisis can’t be stopped in in the ultimate play on disaster story expectations. In the end I expect most disaster stories to end with some kind of miracle solution to the crisis which allows humanity to continue survival. Yet this work ends differently, instead providing a more bleak outlook on the crisis. This is one of the things the work does well and one of the things I admire it for. My one criticism is that the crisis itself felt a bit too “cosy” at times and the effect it has on the plot can be a bit subtle at times.
The conflict and the effect the crisis has on the setting is evident but at times I feel like it doesn’t have too strong effect on Julia, the protagonist. Sure, her friends and family begin to suffer from the effects of the slowing illness that spreads and some stuff happens to her friends due to reactions to the slowing but in the end not a lot happens to her personally. She seems like an impartial observer who happens to be caught in a comfy spot in the middle of it all. She doesn’t experience the crisis directly in the way her friends and family do, which bothers me. Her rather dull view on events makes the rather big crisis seem like a cosy catastrophe despite the fact that it shouldn’t be. I wanted to view the slowing for what it was, a huge society changing crisis. As I read the novel it felt like society was just continuing as it was before. I can’t quite put my finger on why but the conflict of the novel just felt dull.
In terms of character arcs themselves there were times where Julia’s naivety got on my nerves. In particular was her reaction to her father having an affair with the next door neighbour Sylvia. While the affair is initially portrayed as wrong, even though Julia’s naivety as an eleven year old causes her to blame in on the slowing making people more impulsive, the issue is quickly hushed over when her father leaves Sylvia to focus on forming a better bond with his wife after she falls ill. This irked me a bit since after that point the issue was sort of put under the rug but I always felt like he should have received a bit more punishment for his actions. As a result this story arc sort of broke my immersion within the story since it did not feel like a realistic portrayal of how an extra martial affair would typically end.
As a whole I would say that the novel was similar to what I expected it to be. A lot of the marketing material referred to the crisis as an invisible catastrophe, at least in the beginning. That’s precisely what the crisis was in the end, subtly handled to the point where it was almost invisible despite the effect it had on the world. I felt like the novel was suitably depressing and played on a lot of expectations but at times the conflict failed to deliver and I think at times it felt a bit too light when it came to handling the actual crisis despite the effect it had on the world in the story. It was a good book and one I’ll remember but it had its flaws too and overall I’d say it was a fairly average read as a result.
IN A WORD: OKAY