Review: The Last One - Reality TV, but it tries to kill you

The Last One by Alexandra Olivia
title: The Last One
author: Alexandra Olivia
pages: 304
format: Audiobook
buy it: Amazon | B&N | BookDepository | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
genre: Thriller, Action/Adventure
topics: Apocalypse, Grief, Psychology, Reality Television, Road Trip, Survival

Questioning Reality

A young woman nick-named Zoo signs up for a survivalist reality television show, in which the goal is push the contestants into quitting using psychological stress. As part of this, they are subjected to mind games, faction fighting, and even faked catastrophes and "dead body" mannequins. So when Zoo sets out on a solo portion of the competition and the world descends into a genuine apocalyptic plague, she believes that her extreme isolation and the signs of devastation she comes across are just part of the show. While slowly losing her grip on what is real and what is fake, and with no idea of where 'the show runners' want her to go, she slowly makes her way east across an abandoned landscape.

Dual Narrative and Tonal Shifts

The story is told in alternating chapters. One is told in Zoo's first person perspective as she makes her way across the world, slowly discovering more and more proof that it's all real and trying to play it away. The other narrative flashes back to the actual reality show and is told from the POV of...well, of the camera. There's a lot of descriptions of exactly which shots are on the 'screen' in which order (including the whole opening credit sequence of the show) and a lot of awkward sentences about 'the viewers will see X happen.'

The juxtaposition of the very basic, very distant narration in the show parts, and the very dense and close stream-of-consciousness in Zoo's parts created quite a bit of whiplash for me. I appreciated the potential of both styles, but I didn't get much of a chance to really enjoy one or the other before being switched to something else. Furthermore, there didn't seem a reason for the dual narrative. The show parts did not impart any insight into Zoo's solo survival. Zoo's solo story didn't have any thematic impact on the story of the show. They were both interesting in their own rights, but they only thing connecting them were "this happened after that." They could have come from completely different authors, they were so disparate!

The set up was a point

One of my favorite parts of the book was seeing Zoo's mental process of explaining away every bit of evidence she got about the apocalypse being real. To the reader, it's very obvious what's going on, but at the same time I had no problem believing that Zoo convinced herself otherwise. The close-in, first person narration does a very good job letting the reader into her head, into all of her confusion and the fact that she's clinging to this narrative she's built for herself as a defense mechanism. There were a few points where I was sucked into Zoo's perspective so much that even I wasn't sure what was real or what wasn't. Obviously there's an apocalypse, but where exactly in Zoo's memories does it start? The portions she experiences are pretty clear, but there's a section of the timeline that we only see in Zoo's memories and she's a very unreliable narrator at that point.

It also helps that, in the portions of the reality show that we see, it's very clear that they're doing all the can to mess with the contestants, even to the point of faking someone's death. So while the final conclusion of "this whole destroyed town is fake" is a leap, it is reasonable that Zoo would have started down this line of thinking.

The only complaint I have is...well, that missing chunk of the timeline. There's a bit between where Zoo leaves the show group and before her POV narration picks up which I would have loved to see, because that's the point at which she starts to crack. Instead of seeing the process of Zoo losing her grip on reality and succumbing to loneliness, we start with her already there. She comes into the book already worn down and desperate and single-minded. And then she stays that way. It makes the emotional tone of the book very one-note. Her emotional state is rich and delved into for a lot of soliloquies, but it also doesn't change much.

Will I read this author again? Maybe.
Will I continue this series? Not part of a series.

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