What I asked for: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys.
What I got: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.
I still, at some point, need to read the Jean Rhys. I can happily say that I’ve read the Brooks-Dalton, however, and that’s what I’m here to talk about today!
Good Morning, Midnight is a split-POV science fiction, with 2 close-third perspectives. One follows Augie, an aging astronomer who chooses to stay on his Arctic base after the rest of his colleagues evacuate after hearing of a catastrophic event. The other follows Sully, an astronaut on the Aether, on a long journey back to Earth. When both Augie and Sully’s crew lose all contact with anyone else on Earth, they have no choice but to continue onwards, pushing through the isolation in the hopes of one day making contact again.
Science fiction isn’t a genre I usually read, but this year I’ve been branching out into it a bit more, and I am enjoying what I’m reading so far! Good Morning, Midnight is definitely a slow-paced book and, unusually for science fiction, I would say it’s very much character-driven over plot-driven. It took me a little while to get into this book, as I usually find with split-POV, but once I’d got a few chapters in and all the characters were established, I started to really enjoy it. Often, I find that split-POV can be a bit disjointed and confusing, but the disparity in settings was enough to keep me firmly on track.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity for me. There’s no great climax or flowery prose, just simple, straight-forward storytelling with some engaging and three-dimensional characters. I did prefer the Aether sections over the Arctic section, mostly because I related to Sully and the crew far more than I did Augie. One of the main themes of this book is isolation, and the Aether sections explore what it’s like to be isolated, but among a small crew of others. Perhaps this has some relevancy to the past year, and I did find myself imagining what it would have been like to have been isolating as we were, but without the aid of electronic communications to keep us connected with the outside world. With that framework to start from, I completely understood the reactions of the Aether’s crew. I’d like to clarify, however, that this is not a COVID book. It was published in 2016, so it’s just a book that explores the theme of isolation and has therefore suddenly become a lot more poignant and relevant.
The other reason I preferred the Aether was the characters. Sully and Devi’s friendship particularly stood out to me in the Aether sections. Some of the crew faded into the background a little, but this was more an effect of their own (and Sully’s) withdrawal from socialising. I found the different reactions of the crew really interesting to consider, and to be honest, I’d have been fairly happy if the book had just focused on the Aether and had even more time to do a bit of a deeper dive into the different reactions to isolation the characters experience. In the Arctic sections, I didn’t really feel a connection or particular interest in Augie, or the little girl he finds and takes under his wing. They were both interesting and well-written characters in their own right, but I didn’t really understand their arc. Their functions became clear at the end, but throughout most of the book, it felt like they didn’t really have a goal to work towards like the Aether did, and so it felt like they were just drifting, rather than having a purpose.
Unfortunately, the end of the book wasn’t something I particularly liked. (There will be spoilers ahead). Augie’s function becomes clear when he refers to an ex-partner named Jean, and Sully refers to a woman called Jean as her mother. This revelation of sorts where it becomes apparent that Augie is Sully’s estranged father is very much dramatic irony: though the characters do make contact, they do not, in the course of the book, realise their relationship to one another. The second revelation, that Sully’s Christian name is Iris, and the young girl Augie has taken under his wing is likely a hallucination of the daughter he abandoned, was disappointing to me. The first revelation seemed lazy, and just took me right out of the story. Up until that point, Brooks-Dalton was doing a great job of suspending my disbelief, but as soon as the characters just so conveniently happened to be related, reality crashed in, and I checked out a bit. The second revelation was disappointing, because Iris’ character had been really interesting, and while the mystery of how she had appeared on the base seemed a bit unrealistic, I had managed to suspend my disbelief there and believe in this strange, almost silent, somewhat wild little girl. Having her be implied to be a hallucination ruined the character for me in retrospect.
Overall, while the ending was a shame, I did enjoy this book. As a debut novel, it’s great, and I do hope that she writes more fiction books in the future… I’d give them a read! It’s a shame the ending wasn’t for me, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Have you ever really enjoyed a book but then not liked the ending?