Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Review - The Last One - Alexandra Oliva - tense and thought provoking

My thoughts

Wow!! I enjoyed this tantalising switchback ride of a book, refreshingly different, thoroughly contemporary with extensive appeal.

I’m sure many of us have wondered what it would be like to take part in a reality TV show. Well, our heroine Zoo throws caution to the wind and with her husbands approval sets off to do one last big challenge before settling down to be a Mum. She signs up to be a participant on an extreme survival reality TV show in the US, where surviving literally becomes the name of the game. It’s like Bear Grylls meets the Hunger games with its own unique slant.

I must admit the leading characters’ name in the blurb almost put me off – who in their right mind is called Zoo? But it soon becomes clear that the contestants are all given easy to remember nicknames according to their real life jobs, there’s also Biology and Engineer, even Waitress and Exorcist, every single persona feels authentic and as I became acquainted with them I was rooting for some and others – I just wanted them to fall off a cliff! Just like real reality shows. So, reading the book is like watching a really entertaining TV show, yet getting up close and personal with one particular contender so much that I almost felt I was part of the action myself.

Players are 12 adventurous participants who have agreed to be filmed taking part in a staged but realistic survival experience. Living rough in a forest they will have to battle to survive and demonstrate their skills, or lack thereof, to the hidden cameras concealed everywhere and a handful of production team members. A big cash incentive is on offer for the winner, together with the huge satisfaction of challenging themselves to the max, overcoming their own fears and the reward of achievement.

As filming begins it’s obvious that at the start the dangers and tests are staged for effect, but throughout the book we begin to view things in two timelines. One is everyone mucking in together and developing their own strategies to win as the show is filmed.

The second is Zoo, alone, struggling, tired, hungry and totally stressed out, she is finding it increasingly more difficult to cope with the proliferating mock ups of unsavoury and bizarre situations she is being placed in. Because we are treated to knowledge of some outside events, it’s clear that all is far worse than even she imagines, isolated from contact with outsiders she battles on gamely but when things go wrong – Boy do they spiral out of control.

Outside the forest an apocalyptic epidemic rages, the population is dropping like flies and the support network carefully put in place for the contestants is fractured beyond comprehension. Woo-hoo – bring it on!

The tension builds, the pace escalates, and I just could not put this book down. Even now, days after finishing it, I keep slipping back into the survivalist mind-set.

When I was reading the later sections, I flew rapidly from mental encouragement “Don’t worry Zoo, they’ve staged all this, it’s not really that dangerous” to shouted warnings “No, don’t DO that Zoo, it’s NOT pretend anymore”

This outstanding, ominously thought provoking and unsettling debut novel by a talented young writer is one of those rare books I genuinely couldn’t stop reading yet REALLY didn’t want to end, because I knew it would leave me with a thirst for more, I’m finding it difficult to alleviate.

It’s perfectly exciting, thoroughly entertaining and gets one great big thumbs up from me.

My thanks go to the wonderful folk at Michael Joseph (Penguin/ Random House) for providing me with a review copy in advance of publication. The hardback is out on July 14th (coincidentally that’s my birthday too – feel free to send me chocolates – Oh heck don’t be silly send me books instead they last so much longer and aren’t fattening!)

Do get your copy pre-ordered now, this is one you don’t want to miss.

The Blurb

A dazzling and unsettling novel of psychological suspense. Survival is the name of the game as one woman's mind and body are pushed to the limit.


When Zoo agrees to take part in a new reality TV show, In the Dark, she knows that she will be tested to the limits of her endurance. Beating eleven competitors in a series of survival tasks deep in the forest, living on camera at the extremes of her comfort zone, will be the ultimate challenge before she returns home to start a family.


As the contestants are overcome by hunger, injury and psychological breakdown, the mind games, tricks and hazards to which Zoo is subjected grow dark beyond belief. This isn't what she signed up for: the deserted towns and gruesome props, the empty loneliness. Is this a game with no end? And what is happening away from the cameras' gaze? Discovering the truth will be just the beginning...

Further information and praise from Goodreads


Translated into over twenty languages, The Last One is a gripping, provocative tale of survival - of the fittest, of the best loved, of the relationships that sustain us. It's a searingly modern thriller and a timeless story of a woman's journey home.

Praise for The Last One 

'Clever in its concept and gripping in its delivery. This propulsive book is for everyone who ever thought reality television signalled the end of the world. Haunting, moving, and remarkable' Karen Joy Fowler, Booker-shortlisted author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

'The Last One seamlessly melds two of our contemporary obsessions -- the threat of global catastrophe; the staged drama of reality TV -- into a fiercely imagined tale of the human psyche under stress. An uncompromising, thought-provoking debut' Justin Cronin, author of international bestseller The Passage

'Taut, tense and at times almost unbearably real, The Last One is both a compelling read, and a terrifyingly believable evocation of survival against the odds' Ruth Ware, author of international bestseller In a Dark, Dark Wood 

'Page-turning and deeply unsettling' Rosamund Lupton, author of international bestseller Sister

'Tense and gorgeous and so damn clever. I loved every second' Lauren Beukes, author of international bestseller The Shining Girls

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