If you work in a library and love to read (and who doesn’t love to read yet works in a library?), you will eventually come across a book that looks so good or sounds so interesting that you have to take it home and read it right away. This is not like the infinitely many other books which you notice and quickly add to your to-read list; these books have such an intense draw that they skip being on any list and go straight home with you and bump everything else you had planned to read down by a few days.
That is what happened with Good Morning, Midnight. I hadn’t heard of it before, but when I saw it on my cart to be shelved and read the back cover and front flap, I was intrigued. It was a slow night, so I opened the first page and tried out the first few lines, and instantly I was hooked.
Title: Good Morning, Midnight
Author: Lily Brooks-Dalton (link goes to her website)
Genre: Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction
Published: August 9, 2016
Synopsis (from GoodReads): 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.
As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?
I love learning about the stars, and I love when fiction uses the stars as either the setting or a major plot point, assuming they are used well. Because of this, a book with dual POVs from both sides of the atmosphere sounded like it would be right up my alley. Augustine and Sully are both enamored by the stars and have made them their lives work. Now, suddenly, their work has led them each to a location where they are cut off from the rest of the world and, by extension, the rest of humanity. However, up until one mysterious day, they still have contact with those outside of their isolated locales. Afterwards, they are left to drift in a vacuum void of knowledge, interaction, and noise.
Good Morning, Midnight is written in poetic prose. The sentences are beautiful, lyrical creations which convey emotion and atmosphere extraordinarily well. The writing is very lovely to read, for the most part. However, I must add the caveat of “for the most part” because there is also an abundance of foul language. Honestly, Augustine has been a horrible person, and has few redeeming qualities until he is faced with his own destruction in addition to that of the rest of the world. There is a grand redemptive structure to his chapters which I won’t spoil, but I struggled to accept it. Similarly, Sully has not had the best role models in her life, and struggles to find meaning in anything beyond her work in each single moment.
The overall message is ambiguous. Chapter after chapter examines lives brought to the brink by suspense, isolation, and stress, but there is no clean ending. The result is vague, leaving the reader to search for meaning in the existential musings and everyday situations from previous chapters. It is an interesting choice, and fitting with the tone and plot of the book, but left me discontented.
There are several interesting twists near the end of the book, and even though I had wondered if they were so earlier on, I was still caught by the way they were revealed. Again, I cannot say much without giving away significant events.
I appreciate the understated nature of this book. The writing style is beautiful, the reader gets to watch the action from up close and truly feels like they are there with the characters. The sky is used symbolically but not as a cliche; it connects Augustine and Sully, but also keeps them apart, just as their work and other things in their lives have kept them apart from people they should have been close to. Big questions are addressed from an angle: rather than tackle themes such as the meaning of life bluntly, Good Morning, Midnight delves into the results of common beliefs and their effects on everyday life.
Unfortunately, wonderful writing and good tactics alone cannot make a book great. The story itself must be great, and this one wavers quite a bit. There is no hope given in the face of egregious human failures, other than the ambiguity of a tentative friendship and strong determination mixed with the theory of living in the moment and focusing on nothing beyond what is good right now. This is a recipe for further anxiety and despair down the road, though.
If you’re looking for action, you won’t find it here. You will, however, find a significant amount of existential musing shrouded in mundane tasks, subtle psychology, and strong character building. This book’s merits lie in its writing style, not its message. I am disappointed, but resigned. I understand why the book is so vague, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
I recommend this for fans of Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank and possibly Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but not many others. I don’t regret reading this, and I am glad that I finished it, but I can’t recommend it too highly. There are better philosophers and more exciting sci-fi stories out there, and the foul language only draws this one down even more.
Until the next chapter,