Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff
Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.
As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’s deep distrust of other humans but, at the same time, her desperate desire to connect to someone. We see how Orpen honors the women who raised her, constantly reminding herself of their instructions and usually obeying, but we also see her skepticism and desire to make her own discoveries, even if that means she may suffer for her curiosity.
Last Ones Left Alive is beautifully written and I have pointed out some of the things I admired about it but, in truth, I found the book painful to read and did not enjoy my time with it. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, it’s hard to like Orpen, which isn’t surprising since she has never interacted with anyone other than her two parents. I didn’t like any of the other (very few) characters, either. I did like (highlight if you want to read these spoilers:) the dog, but the author killed him! I never got over this! And at the very end we meet some interesting female fighters, but we don’t have any time to get to know them. [END SPOILER]
Second, the story moves very slowly, focusing too much on the mechanics of Orpen’s painful, labored walk through her bleak and empty environment. I often got bored and wondered what was the point of it all. There is very little joy or hope and I found it depressing.
Readers who enjoy bleak, almost hopeless, zombie stories or post-apocalyptic stories will like Last Ones Left Alive better than I did. I sometimes enjoy these types of stories (e.g., I Am Legend, The Road, but I didn’t find anything new, exciting, or enlightening here.
The audiobook is produced by Macmillan Audio and is performed by actress Anne-Marie Gaillard. She has an Irish accent that fits this story well. Last Ones Left Alive is 5.5 hours long.
I was intrigued until I read the spoiler…and now I’m just sad.
I know. For me, that’s an unpardonable authorial sin.
I wondered if Orpen* was an Irish name (I didn’t look it up) or a play on “orphan.”
It sounds a bit like The Road to me, and that book was just a big old puddle of depression.
*Turns out its a Norman name and most frequently a surname.
I had the same thought, Marion, so thank you for looking it up!