The Last One by Alexandra Oliva is a cross between a reality survivor show and a genuine catastrophe, a pandemic of which the contestants and even the crew in their isolation are unaware. The illness is widespread and rapid, and people die so quickly that there is little apprehension or appreciation of the danger until the population is decimated.
Twelve contestants, who have been given short epithets connected to their careers (Doctor, Tracker, Waitress, Engineer, Zoo), have been chosen to participate in a reality show that will challenge them mentally and physically. They are all secluded in a wilderness area and unaware of what is going on in the outside world.
The story alternates between the chapters about the challenges the contestants face and the POV of Zoo, a young woman who wants a last big challenge before she and her husband settle down to start a family.
There is unnecessary confusion about who the contestants are. Zoo will refer to them sometimes by the reality show moniker and sometimes by their real names. Eventually, some of the characters become clearer, but this uncertainty prevents a real connection to most of the contestants.
Everything from the reasons the contestants have been chosen, the names assigned to them, the way the film is edited to present a particular point of view and "good television"(regardless of the context). Incidents are scripted, staged, and amended. In the meantime, Oliva does the same to her readers, keeping them off-balance.
Eventually, Zoo continues alone in what she believes is a solo challenge. The stress of the various challenges, an illness she believes the result of polluted water, lack of food, and lack of rest have diminished her ability to reason well, but she refuses to say the words the producers gave the contestants that would signal her desire to quit. She is determined to finish, and she keeps walking, using every skill at her disposal. Any question she may have about the changes she sees, she attributes to the show's script, to props, to the theatrical exploitation of both contestants and audience.
An absorbing glimpse at the way we are manipulated by media (more obviously by reality shows--but only slightly more subtly by press, propaganda, and politics).
A couple of things did bother me, but they would be spoilers, so I'll ignore them for this review.
Review scheduled for June 27, 2016.
Suspense/Post-Apocalyptic. July 12, 2016. Print length: 304 pages.