The Last Of Us book review: How would children survive a global pandemic on Barra?

The Last Of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic Barra. Picture: George Blackadder
The Last Of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic Barra. Picture: George Blackadder
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Rob Ewing succeeds brilliantly in writing the entire novel in the voice of an eight-year-old, says Roger Cox

The Last Of Us by Rob Ewing | Borough Press, £14.99

Author Rob Ewing

Author Rob Ewing

Beautiful as it undoubtedly is, there are certain days on the Isle of Barra – days when the cloud is down, the wind is up and the sea is raging – when you can walk down to the beach, squint out into the maelstrom and feel like the last person on Earth. The five Barra children in Rob Ewing’s haunting new novel, however, have a much more concrete reason to feel alone: as far as they know, they are the last humans left alive anywhere.

In a matter of a few months a terrifying pandemic has swept across the globe, laying waste to human civilisation as they once knew it. Somehow, though, against the odds, these five have survived and now, led by wise-beyond-her-years P7 Elizabeth, daughter of the island’s two GPs, they form a makeshift community, held together by strict rules and routines and the will to survive.

Their story is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Rona, the postwoman’s daughter, who now shares a house with Elizabeth and wee Alex – he’s a P2, the youngest in their group, and a diabetic, making him a ticking time bomb. In another house nearby live the MacNeil brothers, Calum Ian, a P6, and Duncan, who’s in P4 like Rona. The MacNeils are waiting for their dad, a fisherman, to return to the island with supplies, although he’s been gone for so many months now they’re starting to wonder if he’ll ever come back.

Writing an entire novel in the voice of an eight-year-old is a high-risk undertaking, but apart from one or two minor slips (would a child Rona’s age really look at the back of a soup packet, read the bit about statutory rights and then wonder “what about statutory wrongs?”), Ewing succeeds brilliantly. Not only does he manage to make Rona believable, he also uses her child-like way of expressing herself as a powerful descriptive tool, painting a suggestive, impressionistic picture of the carnage wrought by the mysterious “Guangdong Virus” and leaving the reader to imagine the rest.

The details of the catastrophe that overwhelmed the island are cleverly drip-fed into the narrative, from rationing and roadblocks to sheer, blind panic, but the main thrust of the story comes from the shifting dynamic within the group of survivors, as Elizabeth and Calum Ian struggle for control. Be warned: you’ll feel well and truly wrung-out after reading this, but you’ll also hold your loved ones that little bit closer.