You know those post-apocalyptic stories where the misfit with the skillset no one needed in the twenty-first century suddenly thrives when surrounded by the burning corpses of a destroyed civilisation?
Well, this isn’t one of those stories.
It has the burning corpses and the destroyed civilisation but the heroine can’t cook, never mind hunt, has never lived alone, is prone to depression and immobilising panic attacks, and her immediate reaction to being the last person alive in London is to get high and stay high. All of which is remarkably refreshing.
This is an unusual book. It reminds me of my first encounter with a Marmite and honey toasted sandwich, there was a lot that was familiar but the combination was unique to the point of being startling and you’re either going to spit it out or crave more. I didn’t spit it out.
‘Last One At The Party’ is written in a journal-style that is sort of Bridget Jones minus the optimism and most of the humour. Much of the content, told as memories of our heroine’s past, covers the kind of topics that are typically Rom-Com material. Yet the description of a pandemic that kills everyone within six days of firsts symptoms is chillingly realistic. The descriptions of the corpse-strewn world our heroine navigates are gruesome, deeply sad but never exploitative.
At first, I wasn’t sure I would like this book. I got so impatient with our heroine. Hadn’t she read any pandemic books? Didn’t she know what to do in a zombie apocalypse? (There are no zombies but the survival lessons apply) Didn’t she know she should be taking charge, kicking ass and preparing not just to survive but to restart civilisation? Apparently, she didn’t get the email. And she’s not an American survivalist. She’s an ordinary middle-class white English woman with some mental health challenges, whose life was falling apart before the pandemic hit and who did not see herself as any kind of heroine at all.
Once I let myself understand that this was a novel about a real woman in difficult circumstances and not the novelisation of a video-game, I slipped into the narrative and started to enjoy myself. By the last third of the book, I was reading past my bedtime because I was so involved in what was going on.
‘Last One At The Party’ is told mostly in the form of journal entries detailing events from the start of the pandemic in November 2023 until October 2024. We follow our heroine as she starts to understand the implications of being the last person alive and the steps she takes over the next year. About half of the journal is made up of pre-pandemic memories which slowly helped me understand the mess our heroine was in before the pandemic and the behaviours and habits that she has that make it unlikely that she will survive.
I admired Bethany Clift for choosing a heroine who was often depressed and sometimes had crippling panic attacks. The choice is more than a novel trope-twist, it’s central to what the novel is about. The pandemic poses our heroine many challenges but the biggest one is for her to reconcile herself with her past and take control of her present.
If you can bring yourself to read about a civilisation-ending pandemic in the midst of the current COVID-19 deaths, and you’re willing to learn what really makes our heroine tick, then I think you’ll enjoy this Marmite and Honey combo. I know I’ll be looking out for Bethany Clift’s next book.