The Quiet at the End of the World was just one of those books that hit all my sweet spots. It has the signature mystery elements from Lauren James along with a whole lot of introspection.
How far would you go to save those you love?
Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused global infertility. Closeted in a pocket of London and doted upon by a small, ageing community, the pair spend their days mudlarking for artefacts from history and looking for treasure in their once-opulent mansion.
Their idyllic life is torn apart when a secret is uncovered that threatens not only their family but humanity’s entire existence. Lowrie and Shen face an impossible choice: in the quiet at the end of the world, they must decide who to save and who to sacrifice . . .
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Reading The Quiet at the End of the World felt much like witnessing the perfect storm. It’s almost as if James took a glimpse into my mind and figured out a book that would captivate me. Early in the story, Lowrie says, “when you know that there’s no future, the only thing that’s interesting any more is the past” (22) and I think this is the moment her character clicked for me. You know when you have those moments where a character just works for you? It was the immense weight on Lowrie and Shen’s shoulders to be the youngest people on the planet and therefore tasked with preserving humanity.
What a huge weight to bear. So not only do Lowrie and Shen contemplate their own place in humanity, but the human existence. What did humans think when they created these relics that survived until Lowrie and Shen? James delivers us an introspective book mulling on the human existence (both the future and the past), all while writing a brilliant and tense mystery at the heart of The Quiet at the End of the World. Lowrie and Shen live, as she likes to put it roughly, in the moment before the end of the human species. Being the youngest of all of them, the end of humanity could be in their grasp.
Lowrie is incredibly introspective and I found this not only an excellent way to get to know Lowrie, but to think of what I would do in her shoes. She thinks about what we will leave behind. In our present, we go on with our lives, listen to the same music, and as the world crumbles around Lowrie, she sees remnants of what other humans have left behind. Discovering echoes of another time, buried under sand, waiting for that moment to breathe again. At the end of the day, what do we want to survive us?
Part of why I was so captivated by The Quiet at the End of the World was a writing technique that James employed – showing us the past via the social media account of one of the people Lowrie discovered. Lowrie goes exploring to find treasure from the past and she often looks them up on the internet. So when she stumbles across a purse belonging to a woman named Maya, she ends up discovering more about both the past and her present than she thought. Through Maya’s tweets or social media posts, we not only develop a relationship with Maya and her life, but also Lowrie’s thoughts. We discover her bisexuality and begin to bridge the gap between Maya’s world and Lowrie’s.
I found this technique extremely clever to not only introduce us to almost another level of mystery, but to give the past a voice. Throughout Lowrie’s searches, she’s looking for clues about the past, almost to figure out who she is, and it’s like Maya is talking directly to us. Additionally through Maya we are introduced to a trans side character from Maya’s life.
While you can get lost in the introspection, the science fiction elements of the story, at the same time James highlights the lives of these teens – of Lowrie’s fear of losing her best friend, of their love for family, and the mistakes they make. There’s not much more I can talk about regarding the story and themes in The Quiet at the End of the World without spoiling the mystery and world building, so just trust me, this is a story that will appeal to all my introspective SF fans!