I review The Last One by Alexandra Oliva.
Many thanks to the author & publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.
For readers of Station Eleven and The Passage comes a dazzling and unsettling novel of psychological suspense. In Alexandra Oliva’s thrilling fiction debut, survival is the name of the game, as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself—and one woman’s mind and body are pushed to the limit.
She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.
But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.
Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.
Welcome to In The Dark, the terrifying reality show that introduces us to twelve contestants, and cuts them off from the world. They are: Zoo, Tracker, Rancher, Waitress, Asian Chick/Carpenter Chick, Black Doctor, Banker, Cheerleader Boy, Air Force, Exorcist, Biology, and Engineer. They’re competing against each other for a huge wad of prize money, attempting to survive out in the wilderness.
The contestants spend some time on team challenges, before heading off on their own. Competition is fierce. It’s all about survival, but it quickly becomes apparent that there’s more going on than what the contestants are aware of. Three of the contestants quit before the you-know-what hits the fan, and one can’t help but think that they were the lucky ones.
Zoo’s character is by far the most interesting, the most real. The producers of the show know it, and attempt to always portray her in a positive light. Oliva cleverly shows us just how easily the media can skew our opinions, but, despite this, I still found myself warming to Zoo more than anyone else. If nothing else, she is an excellent narrator. Although all of the characters and their interactions were interesting, I definitely enjoyed Zoo’s chapters far more. I want to keep the plot twists a surprise, so I won’t delve too deeply into it, but it soon becomes clear that being in the dark is no longer a game, that the reality show has become a reality, and there won’t be any winners.
Some of the early reviews have complained about Oliva’s way of describing the characters, and I can see their point. In Zoo’s chapters, she refers to the other contestants by their real names, whereas in the other, omniscient chapters, they’re always called by their nicknames. Although I’m pretty sure I know who’s who, it’s also not very clear. But this is a small annoyance, I think, and something that may be polished for release. Other reviewers have also touched upon the too-often mentions of skin colour, religion and sexuality as identifying factors. I actually thought this way of describing the characters was a nod to how we as viewers identify and name characters on TV shows. It was another way of Oliva saying look! This is what the media makes you do; this is how they inform your opinion of people! But I could be wrong. Only Oliva knows. Maybe someone should ask her.
I found Oliva’s writing to be fresh and enticing. I devoured The Last One over the course of one Sunday, gasping and swearing and shaking my head. My heart pounded in my chest; my stomach dropped. I wanted to scream, throw the Kindle against the wall, laugh out loud. The Last One was a lot of fun to read, as Oliva delivers a delicious twist on the popular apocalyptic wasteland story. The ending leaves the possibility for a sequel, which I’m sure will be highly anticipated if embarked upon by Oliva, but I’d definitely say that she can chalk her debut up as a success.