No matter what else in life seems uncertain, we can always be sure of the rising and setting of the sun. But what if a time came when even this basic truth seemed doubtful? Julia is only 11 years old when she experiences exactly that. For reasons unknown to even the cleverest physicists, the world begins to slow on its axis. The changes are subtle at first but before long the planet is taking 70 hours to complete a single rotation. The hot summer days feel as unrelenting as the boundless nights.
I found this premise completely irresistible and as soon as a copy fell into my hands I had to start reading straight away. The world slowing down - what could be more simple? It's such a clever idea that appealed to my love of good sci-fi/dystopian fiction. And it soon becomes apparent that Karen Thompson Walker has thoroughly thrown herself into the scenario and considered it from every possible angle. It's not only about long days and long nights; we read about the effects on the clocks, the tides, the pull of gravity, migratory birds, the weather, every detail is covered.
The decision to tell this story through a child's eyes is an interesting one. Julia is so young that she has only a limited understanding of what is happening to the world around her. At 11 it can feel like the end of the world when the boy she likes doesn't look at her at the bus stop. Her simple observations highlight the fact that human nature can't change even when the planet is falling apart around us. Best friends will still argue, people will still have affairs.
Unfortunately I was disappointed by the way this narrative served to diffuse a lot of the tension and terror that I was expecting from the story. The threat of impending apocalypse was looming over the characters, but as a reader I felt mild peril at best. The novel felt like a coming-of-age tale that just so happened to be set in this uncertain period of time where the world was slowing, almost as if that was just a side plot to distract from Julia's worries and her family dramas. I'm not a fan of coming-of-age novels at the best of times, and didn't find Julia's character lively enough to hold my interest. She is a very meek, docile 11-year-old, and rarely seems to get enthusiastic or angered by anything that happens around her. In addition, the narrative voice is actually provided by adult Julia looking back and remembering her childhood, but that isn't always clear because she doesn't share any of her new, adult insight into what happened at that time.
I still love the concept of this book and wish that it had concentrated more on the numerous ways in which the slowing of the Earth would create sheer turmoil in peoples' lives. It is a story that has been very well received by many other readers and may be one to try if you are a fan of child narrators or coming-of-age stories. Just don't expect much suspense or pre-apocalyptic action and thrills.