The turnout for November’s meetup really surprised me. I expected everyone to groan and sigh like me when they saw the length of the book and the size of the text. (370 pages and very small). However, quite a substantial number of people ignored their gut instinct and read the book pretty much in it’s entirety. A couple gave up, a few didn’t finish and the clever one’s skipped the 1st half of the book to only read the second.
The story starts a long way into the future (around 2100) and follows the lives of a group of friends narrated by ‘The Last Man’ Lionel and tells of the plague that wipes out all of humanity. It was published in 1826 a few years after the death of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and was vastly overshadowed by her earlier novel Frankenstein.
Sadly, this book seems to have been overshadowed for very good reason. Comparing this to Frankenstein will always happen and Frankenstein will always win as the better novel. The Last Man is ridiculously hard to read. The first third of the book primarily concentrates on setting up the lives of Lionel, his sister and friends from a very early age and through to marriage without a glimpse of the impending plague. Suddenly by page 200, people are dying left, right and centre and this is where the action is.
Not only was this too wordy and flowery for our tastes, it was hard to relate to the characters and situations. Mainly due to it’s age and the clashes with our expectations. There was no real sense of the future either. The only giveaway was that England was now a republic and a brief mention of a flying machine. Hardly imaginative .
What made this book interesting was not the apocalyptic future but the autobiographical signigicance for Mary Shelley. Easily recognised within the story are her husband Percy and Lord Byron. This book was clearly a testament to her grief and the graphic shipwreck scene chillingly echoes Percy Shelley’s death. A moment she must have replayed over and over in her mind.
Another interesting point brought up and something on which we need to research more was that Mary Shelley had jumped onto a bandwagon of ‘Last Man’ stories. It seemed to be in vogue at the time to write stories or paint paintings of the apocalypse and the Last Man. Many of the stories no longer survive, however, the picture at the top of this post is The Last Man by John Martin who was recently featured at the Tate Britain.
As much as it seemed to be a hard slog for us, we did think this book would make a fantastic film. We did find out that it was but apparently the only similarities were the title and character names. So, we decided to cast the characters of the book:
Lionel – James Franco
Perdita – Anne Hathaway
Evadne – Eva Green
Adrian – Orlando Bloom
Idris – Gwyneth Paltrow
Raymond – Sean Bean
Clara – Jane Egre
Idris’ Mum – Miranda Richardson
Casting these actors in their roles was not easy and we argued a lot about who should be honoured in our list. It was lots of fun!
Do we recommend you read this? hmmmnn….. if you can read the classics without getting too bogged down by the language (and this one is very flowery and littered with classical quotes), then it is an interesting read. It’s definitely of more historical interest rather then as a genre piece and it may be easier to take in with this in mind.
The book scored 4.75 out of 10