When he considered how long he had been alive, it seemed remarkable how little he had experienced.
I have no desire to ever spend any appreciable amount of time in the Arctic. But as long as I'm just reading about it, not actually feeling the cold, the idea of being alone in an isolated outpost amidst a harsh frozen wilderness sounds perversely cozy and peaceful. That's what drew me to this book, and I wasn't disappointed.
But it's primarily a novel about how to live when it seems like there is no future. How would you react if you inexplicably lost contact with the rest of humanity? The character Augustine, from his self-imposed exile in a remote observatory, represses a jumble of emotions beneath a protective layer of apathy. The astronauts, en route home from Jupiter and encountering only radio silence, mostly become depressed. I would expect a greater variety of responses: intense curiosity about what happened; desperate determination to find a way to rebuild civilization, however slim the chances; denial of the reality of the disaster until every conceivable far-fetched alternative explanation has been ruled out conclusively. Personally, I'm guessing I'd be consumed with anxiety, but procrastinate grief until I had direct confirmation that the worst had happened.
The novel's perspective on how to cope is: focus on what's happening right here, right now.
Do you know what I do? I brush my teeth and think only of brushing my teeth. I replace the air filter and think only of replacing the air filter. I start a conversation with one of the others when I feel lonely, and it helps both of us. This moment, Sully, this is where we must live.
Hopefully none of us will ever have to live through the literal end of the world, but perhaps most of us experience a private apocalypse at some point or another. We see our hopes destroyed, we realize that whatever future we were striving for is unattainable. Shutting the past and the future out of your mind can be an enormous relief in such times... if you can manage it.
Two unrelated things. First, this book has provided a solid contender for the title of coolest way to die: cuddling with a polar bear. Second, here's a nice quote:
...she gazed out into the void, breathing in the earthy smell of photosynthesis to quiet the accelerated beat of her heart as she took in the overwhelming, infinite space that surrounded her. No beginning, no end, just this, forever. From here, the idea of Earth seemed like an illusion. How could something so verdant, so diverse and beautiful and sheltered, exist among all this emptiness?