Tuesday 24 January 2017

Thriller: The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Penguin/Michael Joseph, €16.99

Anne Cunningham

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

This post-apocalyptic novel concerns the fate of Zoo, a participant in a reality TV show, and her grim story of survival. Survival is in fact the central theme, as a dozen participants are sent out into the woods in a kind of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here TV gameshow. But they're not celebrities, they're ordinary people playing for $1m, to be won by the last contestant left - the Last One of the book's title. Zoo is determined that it's going to be her. What she doesn't realise, but the reader discovers early on, is that almost the entire population of North America has been wiped out overnight by some mysterious, water-borne plague.

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The narrative swings to and fro, as every second chapter follows Zoo's lonely travails inside and outside of her head, and every other one informs the reader about why Zoo has ended up alone and ultimately unfilmed. Scary stuff.

This debut novel depicts the culture of reality TV in much the same way as The Truman Show did, with as much cynicism but not as much style. Alexandra Oliva's depiction of the TV director and crew as a crass bunch of individuals possessing not a single shred of integrity between them is a little laboured and too easy. The other contestants are presented only through the crew's nicknames for them, like Black Doctor, or Waitress, and while this successfully depersonalises them, and I see Oliva's point, we are left feeling vaguely disinterested in their grisly fate.

This story would make a good screenplay. The writing is nicely paced, the visual shocks are well-timed and plentiful and there's a market for such films. But as a novel, I felt there was little development. I was almost indifferent to Zoo's plight. I could see it, but I just couldn't feel it.

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