It seems to be a literary trope that when the world collapses from war or pandemic outbreak, a society run by adults turns to fundamentalism (we did wrong by God, now we gotta do right by Him) and a society where only children remains turns feral, a la Lord of the Flies. I found The Last of Us to be at least as creepy as the ubiquitous children-go-feral novel.
At an undisclosed point in the future, a biological outbreak has ripped through Great Britain, and presumable the world. On a Scottish island five children remain – Elizabeth, the unofficial leader as the oldest as the daughter of a doctor (so she knows lots of stuff), but whose authority is constantly being questioned by brothers Duncan and Callum Ian. Rona, the narrator, is the second-youngest, then Alex, the baby of the group, a diabetic for whom the shortage of insulin is a constant threat. The novel doens’t specify their ages, but I pictured Elizabeth being in her early-to-mid teens and Alex, who is old enough to articulate his feelings (and failing body) around six or seven. They could be all that’s left in the world, or things could be fine in France and no-one’s going to brave a biohazardous country, so they’ve left the survivors to rot. Not knowing either way adds to the narrative’s uneasiness.
Duncan and Callum Ian resent Elizabeth’s role, particularly Duncan, who destroys the supply of insulin for apparently no better reason than he’s a brat and a bully who believes Alex’s diabetes could be controlled by eating less sugar. He becomes increasingly aggressive in his demands that things be done his way, and his aggression and use of his superior strength is very effectively portrayed through Rona’s narrative.
They stumble across a survivor, Mairi, during their scavenging, who lacks of scars that the others have. I put her age between Rona and Alex. She doesn’t seem to add much to the story, other than to further inflame Duncan (why doesn’t she have scars? what’s wrong with her?). I would have liked to know more about Mairi’s significance, and what it was that killed everyone else, although that sense of unknowing largely adds to the book’s creepiness.
Duncan’s increasing aggression and insistence things be done his way is very reminiscent of Jack from Lord of the Flies, but I found his behaviour to be far more threatening than Jack’s, perhaps because I never got the same sense of unknowing from LotF. But his downfall brought little satisfaction, either, particularly in light of Callum Ian’s response.
I can’t give a lot away without ruining the book, and it’s definitely not a book for everyone. I, for one, can read Graham Masterton and sleep like a baby, but the potential-reality element of The Last of Us meant the story and characters kept churning in my head long after I had closed the book. My partner once asked me why I could watch the Saw movies over and over but got creeped out by Gravity, and my answer applies to this book too: the more realistic the horror and creepiness, the more it provokes you and the harder it is to switch off from.