I occasionally review books for NetGalley.com, a service that provides pre-publication books for review purposes. I recently received a copy of Alexandra Oliva’s forthcoming debut novel, The Last One, due out by Random House this July. The description of The Last One was intriguing:
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.
So I requested the book, and my request was approved. I’ve been a fan of Survivor since the show began 15 years ago. I have read Station Eleven, and the Passage, and a wide range of post-world-comes-to-and-end-as-we-know-it books, and thought the concept was worth giving it a read. Imagine you are a contestant on a reality show, not on some island in the Pacific, but somewhere in a forested part of the U.S., and on your own to survive in the wild. BUT while you are playing “the game,” a super-flu or some other sort of contagion strikes. Since the game’s producers are constantly throwing obstacles and challenges at you, would you think it was a part of the game, or real.
This is the premise of The Last One. As a Survivor fan, I loved the game description, and the confessionals, and the real sense of what it would be like to be in “a game.” As a fan of the post-apocalyptic books, it provided a totally different spin. The book goes back and forth from telling the story of the game, in one chapter, to focusing on the experiences of the one woman “Zoo” (named that by the show’s producers because she worked with wildlife), “post-game.” Yet, she doesn’t realize she isn’t in a game anymore.
The back-and-forth is sometimes frustrating. I really wanted more of Zoo’s story, but the writing was strong, and it was the type of book you fly through. I also occasionally thought, “come on, you have to realize this isn’t a game anymore.” I was about 80 percent through the book (remember, I have a pre-publication copy, sent on kindle, and no page numbers) and thought the author is never going to resolve this satisfactorily. I was completely wrong. It was a fun book, and will be a great summer beach or pool read, once it comes out in July. I look forward to more from Alexandra Oliva.