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The Last Man (English Edition) Format Kindle
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Most modern books of this sort spend 10 pages on life "before" and the remainder of the book on adjusting to life "after." Shelley uses the opposite approach in The Last Man, and the majority of the book takes place before a mysterious plague begins to destroy the fabric of civilization. Shelley's writing is beautiful and intelligent, and her characters are highly idealized - but no more so than you would expect in a book that is presented as the memoirs of the last man alive on earth.
I think the best way for the modern reader to approach this book is with an open mind. At the beginning, I was constantly looking for clues and signs of some impending doom, and Shelley does nearly everything possible to prevent the reader from foreseeing when and how things will begin to come apart. I would recommend trusting in her ability as an author and just giving yourself over to this book. That's what I did after a few chapters, and I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns. Shelley focuses entirely on the human drama with little attention to the science behind the plague. She herself was the lone survivor of her group of friends and she outlived most of her children, and I think you can feel her pain and loneliness in the narrator, Verney.
This book is beautifully written and the characters debate some of the major philosophical issues of the time (of all times, perhaps). While the subject itself is melancholy, Shelley is protective of her readers and spares us most of the grim details.
I had a hard time deciding whether to give this book a 4 or 5 star review. I decided that 4 was most accurate because I think the book may not appeal as widely as 5 stars would suggest. I was drawn into the world of Lionel Verney and, once I surrendered to it, I found a thought provoking book of uncommon beauty.
Verney tells the story of his life. Through mistakes of his father, he and his sister, Perdita, are cast out of a happy life into one of poor lonely orphans. He forms a plan of vengeance against the people who brought this ruin. The main culprit was the king, who is dead. When the king’s son, Adrian, comes to Verney’s town he sets his plan in motion. However, Adrian turns out to be a great supporter of Verney’s late father. Verney rises from his life of despair and longing with the help of Adrian, who becomes his lifelong best friend. This circle of six friends: Verney, Perdita, Adrian a poet and intellectual , Raymond a hero nobleman (who marries Perdita) , Adrian’s sister, Idris (who marries Verney) and Evadne, a Greek princess, have many ups and downs in their lives . Eventually, most end up married with children and quite happy and settled. But Perdita’s husband, Raymond, cheats on her with Evadne. So Perdita leaves Raymond. A war between the Greeks and the Turks break out and Raymond fights in it as does Evadne. She dies on the battlefield and Verney finds her body and buries her. As Raymond is on his death bed form mortal war wounds, Perdita goes to him and forgives him. When he dies, she kills herself.
Soon after this an epidemic begins. It’s unknown what causes it or how it spreads. It goes from country to country. England is still untouched by it. Due to the plague and several natural disasters in different parts of the world England is filled with immigrants. Then the symptoms reach a patient in a hospital in London. In the year 2096 the few survivors of the plague in England decide to leave and find some untouched part of the world. Verney, Adrian, and their families are at the forefront of this group.
They sail from England, leaving it depopulated. The group decides to pass the hot months in the icy valley of Switzerland. As they journey there Idris, Verney’s wife dies from the plague. By the time they arrive in Switzerland it like every other place is empty of people. After seven years the plague ends. Thinking danger has passed they leave the alps to go into Italy and pass the winter at Milan. Then they spend the summer in a villa by a lake. There one of the children is struck with a sudden fever and dies. They burry the child and sail their skiff toward Athens. But a storm overtakes the ship . Everyone is drowned in the shipwreck except Verney.
He enters the town of Ravenna near where the wreck occurred. He sees oxen, dogs, horses, birds, and other animals but no men among them. After staying a while in Ravennna, he heads to Rome the capital of the world, the crown of man’s achievement. He finds pens and paper and writes a book about his life, which is the book – The Last Man. He leaves it in the ancient city of this world as a sole monument of Verney the LAST MAN. He then leaves Rome to sail around the shores of deserted Earth.
The Last Man is elegantly written with marvelous descriptions. It is written in first person with complicated characters. However, keep in mind it is written in the Regency era for Regency era readers. In that time period writing did demand nor did the readers want fast pacing, hooks or a balance of dialogue and narrative. This book has far more narrative than dialogue. Therefore it may be slow reading for us modern readers. I had to push myself to get through it at times. But I am so glad I read it.
This novel has the classical use of the modern English language with the romantic values of its age, yet with vision employed within the post-modern themes of existence, humanity and moral critique all within the expanse of human extinction. A paradoxical universe that see's not only the clash within personality within the human drama, but stylistically between the romanticist and the rationalist literature. It is compelling, and in a way timeless, for the genre it presaged. I recommend
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