Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When the Whole World Slows Down for a Girl with an Uncertain Future

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When the Whole World Slows Down for a Girl with an Uncertain Future

Article excerpt


THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster, [pounds sterling]14.99) JANE SHILLING IN these days of publishing austerity, Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel has the air of some fabulous creature from a vanished age. At a time when most first novels command advances that are scarcely enough to cover the cost of a ream of A4 and a toner cartridge, Thompson Walker's gentle dystopian coming-of-age fiction earned her an advance of $1 million in the US, and [pounds sterling]500,000 in the UK.

Thompson Walker, a former editor at Simon & Schuster US, was inspired to write her novel by the news that the Indonesian earthquake of 2004 was so powerful it affected the Earth's rotation, imperceptibly shortening the length of a day.a

In The Age of Miracles the days get dramatically longer, rather than shorter. Thompson Walker's heroine, Julia, is a thoughtful soon-to-be 12-yearold when the events known as the Slowing begin. But her story is told in retrospect, from the distance of more than a decade, allowing for a mature (and occasionally sententious) narratorial voice, prone to passages of wistful grown-up hindsight.

"Later," thinks Julia, reflecting on the beginnings of the Slowing, "I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things... But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different -- unimagined, unprepared for, unknown."

News of the Slowing breaks on an ordinary Saturday morning in Julia's suburban Californian community. Her best friend Hanna has been for a sleepover and they are about to set off to soccer practice when Julia's mother appears in a panic. "Turn on the TV right now," she says. "Something Godawful is happening."

If Thompson were writing genre fiction, her novel would now rush headlong into all the extremities generally associated with dystopian fiction. …

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