Archive for September, 2013

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

‘It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different – unimagined, unprepared for, unknown…’ What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..? One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.’

With a whopping seven members away on holiday, it was a select group of five who met at The Barrels this month to discuss The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. However, two of our absentees did send us their thoughts on the book – and they were of very different opinions.

Glynis found it ‘a disappointing read. I don’t know why anyone would describe it as an “eco thriller” – neither eco nor thriller. The premise of the slowing rotation of the earth was a great one and could have made a fantastic book but instead it was just background to a run of the mill coming-of-age novel. I found the writing to be irritating on occasion – too many cliff-hanger moments that were inserted (it seemed to me) just for the sake of it; “I didn’t know then that I would never see him again” “I didn’t realise then that it was the last time I would ever taste pineapple” – all just left on the page!! The author appeared to have neither the wit nor the imagination to really explore some of the implications/outcomes of the slowing rotation even though she made reference to them (continuing use of electricity heavy activities for example).’

In contrast, Martin wrote, ‘At first I thought I was going to write a tirade about bad science until I realised that would entirely miss the point. A bit like objecting to talking lions in the tales of Narnia. In fact both Narnia and Age of Reason have the same theme, how ordinary people react in extra-ordinary circumstances. They have to deal with exactly the same human problems of love and loss, growing up and growing old. We are just as caring, devious, supportive and barmy as we are at any other time. I really took to Julia and I enjoyed her progress through these desperate times, maintaining her equilibrium with the world changes even if her peers were more problematic. ‘

The five of us were also split in our opinions – some were members of the Martin camp and others were with Glynis, including Helen, who thought the book too ambitious for a first novel and found it well and clearly written but not well thought-out. Although she enjoyed the family story, she found the ‘slowing’ plot line disturbing yet unsatisfying.

On balance, the ‘Ayes’ won the day. Jill found it an enjoyable read. She engaged with the narrator and thought the characters were well-drawn. She did not mind the lack of closure at the end of the book, and was particularly interested in the divide between the ‘clock-timers’ (who chose to live by the 24 hour clock and ignore the increasingly long days and nights) and the ‘real-timers’ (who chose to be up and about during daylight and sleep during darkness). Rose also gave the book a thumbs-up, having been drawn into this account of coming-of-age as the world was coming apart. She found the tender relationship between Julia and Seth very affecting. Paula agreed with Rose that this was fundamentally a coming-of-age novel and, for that reason, expected more to have been resolved by the end. However, she was engaged by the book and liked all the detail of the Californian life-style.

I too enjoyed the way Julia’s world was created for us with the build up of small details. The thematic imagery of sickening birds, and of clocks and bells and metronomes, was particularly effective. I was intrigued by the concept of the Earth slowing, and I liked the choice of narrator – one of the ‘little people’ rather than the big hero – if Julia had been in a Hollywood disaster movie, she would have been an ‘extra’. However, like Glynis, I disliked the ‘if I knew then what I knew now’ tendency when the author was writing about the ‘slowing’ and I felt that incident triumphed over plot. I much preferred the ‘coming-of-age’ parts of the story – the bus-stop bullying incident which revealed Julia’s bra-less state was particularly effective. I also loved the relationship between Julia and Seth, and I found his ‘would you rather starve or die of thirst?’-type questions particularly affecting as they moved from the realms of speculation to reality.


One thing we were all agreed on – we were fascinated by the concept of the Earth slowing, and the potential consequences of that slowing engendered lots of discussion. Here are just a few of the questions we debated.

Martin wrote: ‘Ignoring the science for the purposes of the book didn’t stop me speculating about how a force could affect the earth and not the rest of the universe. How astronomers would have been screaming to the heavens after the first few billionths of a second as the slow down threw all their calculations and sightings awry. I wondered about the size of the force which could have soaked up the momentum of the earth’s rotation in so short a time. How GPS would have vanished instantly and presumably cell phones along with it. But the speculation was fun and the book most enjoyable.’

Other debates/discussions included:

We are attuned to the diurnal rhythm – ‘two sets of twelve as neat as the two halves of a walnut’ – and our health suffers if we don’t follow it – for instance, night shifts have health implications for workers – other than the illnesses explored in the book, what other health issues might the ‘slowing’ cause/create?
Why was the Earth’s orbit not affected by the slowing?
Why was there no noticeable ‘braking’ effect if the earth’s spin slowed so quickly?
Why did this affect the magnetic field?
Why did gravity increase?
Why were the birds dying first?


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

September 2013
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