Narrated by eleven-year-old Julia, The Age of Miracles begins in California on an unspecified date in the present or not-too-distant future. Without any warning the earth’s rotation suddenly starts to slow down, resulting in longer days and nights that increasingly fall out of sync with the twenty four hour clock. Called ‘The Slowing’, its cause is unknown although it is generally attributed to mankind’s abuse of the earth and its resources. It soon becomes clear that it will have far-reaching implications for birds, plants, crops, people, and may possibly even signal the beginning of the end of the world.
In the midst of this Julia must navigate the normal trials of her preteen years; school, puberty, friendships, boys, parents; with the pressure of the imminent annihilation of the human race looming. One of the most authentic and scary aspects of this book is the attitude of the characters towards the slowing. It is a shock at first but then they seem to adjust and accept their new lives. In a way this is a positive trait—it signifies that we are adaptable, we are survivors. In another way it is symptomatic of a terrifying complacency; an apathy that could itself be a factor in the origination of the slowing.
The scope of this novel is hugely ambitious. There is quite a lot of sweeping generalised summary and some inconsistencies and holes in the fabric of the universe that the author has created, but she should get credit for even envisioning a story of this magnitude. The science is frequently glossed over by virtue of the fact that it is narrated by an eleven-year-old—there are a lot of ‘we didn’t know’ and ‘we didn’t understand’ explanations that probably saved the author a lot of research headaches.
The story does focus a lot more on the psychological, relational and social implications of this disaster, and these are very skilfully evoked. The social tensions are particularly interesting—specifically the divisive question of how time should be measured. I think the government’s solution and the fallout resulting from this decision is one of the cleverest aspects of the book.
I will bestow my highest compliment and say that, at times, I was put in mind of Margaret Atwood’s more recent work—The Year of the Flood in particular. It bridges the divide between science fiction and literary fiction in much the same manner. I was also reminded a little of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in the very personal perspective of a larger social drama and the slightly backwards-and-forwards narrative style. The pace is gripping but the language is moving and poetic—this balance is very well sustained throughout the book.
This is a topical piece of writing—appropriate for these uncertain times. We know that our vast consumption of resources is having an effect on our planet but we don’t know exactly what the consequences of this will be. The Age of Miracles envisions a shocking and unforeseen outcome. It is a frightening vision but also somehow heartening—a testimony to resilience and love in the midst of tragedy.