Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight, Lily Brooks-Dalton (2016)

August 10th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A character-driven story driven by two very boring characters.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

“But you are a scientist. You understand how this works. We study the universe in order to know, yet in the end the only thing we truly know is that all things end—all but death and time. It’s difficult to be reminded of that”—he patted her hand where it lay on the table—“but it’s harder to forget.”

The basic premise of Good Morning, Midnight immediately reminded me of the opening scenes of The Walking Dead: protagonist Rick Grimes awakens from a coma, only to be greeted by a world he barely recognizes. Entire buildings, blocks, cities, all in shambles. Radio, internet, and satellite communication (mostly) down. His wife and son missing. The dead come back to life; zombies (sorry, walkers!) as far as the eye can see.

Ever since the show’s premier (not a huge fan of the comics, sorry!), this idea has fascinated me: what must it be like to return to the world after a prolonged absence – whether voluntary (a cruise) or not (a coma), mundane (a hiking trip) or the truly spectacular (terraforming Mars!) – only to find it radically transformed? To the stuff of nightmares? And you’re the last woman standing?

Good Morning, Midnight plays with this idea in the form of two survivors, both of whom exist – by chance or by choice, for a time or permanently – in the margins of humanity.

Augustine is a brilliant scientist (astronomer?) in the twilight of his career – and his life, which are one and the same in his estimation. In his late seventies, he came to the Barbeau Observatory, situated at the top of the Arctic archipelago, to commune with the stars one last time. About two years into his stay, an evac team descended on the outpost, bringing with them rumors of war and catastrophe in the outside world. Augie’s fellow scientists evacuated in a hurry, but he chose to stay: everything he needed was right there in the observatory.

Yet fate threw a wrench into his plans in the form of Iris, a mysterious little girl seemingly forgotten in the dormitories. With someone other than himself to consider for the first time in a long time, Augie decides to try and make contact with the outside world, for the girl’s sake. An old man, he’s not likely to survive many more polar winters.

Meanwhile, the six-person crew of the Aether is halfway through its mission to Jupiter when they lose contact with Mission Control. At first, they don’t think much of it; equipment failures happen, and besides, they’re so preoccupied with exploring Jupiter and its four moons that it’s hard to care about anything else. But as the days stretch into weeks and then months, communications specialist Sully and her colleagues grow more and more terrified of what they’ll find when they finally return home.

This seems like a book I should have loved, and yet it mostly fell flat for me. I think the main problem is this: Good Morning, Midnight is a character-driven story…driven by two very boring characters. Augie is flat-out unlikable. To be fair, this is kind of the point: make adult Augie horrible so that elderly Augie’s redemption is that much more complete. But I think the plot would have been better served by an Augie who’s an emotionally unavailable, mildly misanthropic curmudgeon instead of the irredeemable, emotionally abusive womanizer we get. His exes have it right: Augie is a sociopath, at least where emotions are concerned. He treats women like scientific experiments, mistreating them simply to see how they’ll react. A Dexter who wields passive-aggressive asides and one-night stands in lieu of a scalpel and Saran Wrap.

Sully, on the other hand, is just exhausting; an overdone example of the nope, sorry dear, you cannot have it all career woman trope. She’s long since divorced from her husband Jack – who presumably married Sully knowing full well of her brilliance and ambition – and estranged from her daughter Lucy – who she doesn’t seem to have wanted in the first place. Rather than be proud of their super-awesome wife/mother (like Sully was with her own mom Jean), Sully’s family seems to resent her success. And, yes, the prolonged absences it necessitates – but men have been juggling families and careers for generations without being judged and shamed for it. So what if Jack assumes responsibility for the domestic sphere? He’s clearly better at it, and women have been doing the same for years. Get with the future, yo!

Sully internalizes this rejection and, rather than taking it out on Jack – who clearly married Sully expecting her to magically transform into something she’s not – comes to the conclusion that she is a bad wife and mother – and, by extension, a bad woman. A horrible person, a failure as a human being. Never mind that she’s found a family on the Aether – one that accepts her as she is, loves and values her as a person, and nourishes her in ways that a domesticated existence clearly couldn’t. Nope, clearly the problem is that she’s broken and incapable of love. *snort*

Nor did I much care for twist #1 (at 67%), which I saw coming from Chapter 1. In fact, it’s so painfully predictable that I kind of wonder if it’s even supposed to be a twist at all? Like, are we all on the same page here or what? Either way, it’s also ridiculously improbable. My credulity does not stretch that far, okay.

Tragically, the final two chapters – one each for Augie and Sully, since they alternate perspectives – are actually kind of lovely. It’s too bad that I’d long since stopped caring what became of Augie and Sully by then. *shrug*

Also, I bet Thebes is feeling pretty silly for bringing a few bulky paperbacks instead of a fully loaded Kindle. Just saying. What year is this, 1996? Egads.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Sully’s mother Jean died when she was in a college; her baby was stillborn, and she never recovered from the surgery. Sully’s first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage before she had Lucy. She’s estranged from both her daughter and her ex-husband Jack.

The six-person crew on the Aether appears to be international. Sully, the communications specialist, is a white lady from Canada; Commander Gordon Harper is a white guy from America; Ivanov, the geologist and doctor, is Russian; and engineers/mechanics Thebes and Nisha Devi are a black man from South Africa and a brown Hindu woman from Kolkata, respectively.

Augustine’s father was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to both him and his mother. His mother suffered from an unnamed mental illness (possibly bipolar disorder); his father had her institutionalized was he was sixteen. As an adult, Augie became an emotionally abusive womanizer, regarding women as experiments and purposefully toying with them to see how they’d react. When one of these women, Jean, became pregnant, he tried to force her to have an abortion. When he failed, he moved halfway across the world to avoid her and their child.

Animal-friendly elements: While staying at the The Barbeau Observatory, Augie relies on the survival rations left behind rather than hunt, even though he has a rifle and ammunition. His abusive father took him hunting as a kid, and he despises it; not only does bring back unpleasant childhood memories, but he hasn’t the stomach for the gore. However, once he moves to the Lake Hazen weather station, he fishes to supplement (the already adequate) supplies. He does prematurely kill a wolf who he thought was about to attack Iris, the little girl who landed in his care; after the fact, he wonders why he didn’t fire a warning shot instead. He avoids the wolf’s snowy grave the rest of his time at the observatory.

During his journey, Augie is followed by a wayward polar bear who wandered too far inland. Initially, he entertains romanticized – yet predictably speciesist – thoughts about the bear:

“He imagined what it would feel like: looking down a long snout at paws the size of serving platters, rolling onto his back and feeling a thousand pounds of muscle and fat and fur press into the frozen ground. Pulling a ringed seal from its breathing hole and killing it with one powerful swipe, burying his teeth in its flesh, ripping away steaming chunks of blubber and then falling asleep in a clean, white snowdrift: sated. No thoughts—just instincts. Just hunger and sleepiness. And desire, if it was the right time of year, but never love, never guilt, never hope. An animal built for survival, not reflection. The idea almost made him smile, but Augustine was not in the habit of bending his mouth in that direction.”

This early passage made me dislike him straightaway – but, to be fair, he is established throughout the course of the book as a very unlikable person, so perhaps this is the point.

The last (Augie) chapter is quite lovely, though: Augie finds the bear, now dying, stretched out on the lake’s shore and curls up next to him. Augie’s health is failing, and he’s decided to let the Arctic snow take him, along with his last companion at the edge of the world.


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2 Responses to “Book Review: Good Morning, Midnight, Lily Brooks-Dalton (2016)”

  1. Burritoroll Says:

    So what was the twist? That Augie imagined Iris in his head this entire time did you catch onto that so quickly?

  2. Brad Says:

    SO THAT’S IT? I couldn’t figure out how Harper calls Sully “Iris” in almost the last sentence of the book. I figured “How could that be the same person?” She never WAS there with Augie (he imagined it) and after she left she she became an astronaut? So she also was NOT a child when airlifted out? Did NOT see that but was also confused by the Iris reference right at the end.

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