The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster – 2013)

Some psychologists argue that humans are compelled by natural disasters because it triggers their deepest senses of empathy. I’d like to think it was this rather than a sense of schadenfreude that attracted me to this book, which revolves around an 11 year old girl called Julia at a time when the Earth’s rotation begins, inexplicably, to slow down.

Julia is an ordinary girl whose shyness, awkwardness and feelings of alienation will resonate with many. She has few close friends and those she has tend to drift away as their families react to the slowing of the Earth by searching for solace and answers within ‘end of days’ religious ideology or alternative communities.

I’m not sure that the author would want this novel to be described as science fiction but, at the least, it is scientifically speculative and, like a lot of good sci-fi, it explores the implications of changing one thing (albeit quite a big one) and then following through the consequences and implications. As the Earth slows, days and nights become longer, circadian rhythms are knocked out of kilter whilst animals and plant life start to suffer drastically.

Life continues, many people simply try to continue their lives as best they can but relationships are stretched and altered by the natural catastrophe. In an attempt to keep order, the government stipulates that people should continue to abide by the regular 24 hour clock. Some disregard this and seek to live a regular pattern of day/awake & night/asleep that sets them apart from their communities and eventually makes them the target of suspicion and bullying. This echoes Julia’s experiences of not belonging to the right crowd.

As the Earth continues to revolve more slowly, gravity seems to be affected as does the magnetic field resulting in the northern lights being seen in California. Significantly higher radiation in the atmosphere means that people must increasingly avoid daylight. Julia’s mother and others become ill with a new disease that becomes known as ‘the syndrome’.

In Julia and her family, the flora, fauna and Earth itself a deep fragility is displayed. Fragility of friendships, family ties, the ecosystem and the human mind. However this is no Eco-warrior allegory, humans are not to blame for their predicament.

Children must often endure as they have little control over their circumstances. Such powerlessness is written large in the novel, not only for Julia but for the human race.

I enjoyed this book and I think that most readers will be gripped by the over-arching disaster whilst feeling a strong sense of empathy with Julia.