The Last Woman in the World

Inga Simpson

The Last Woman in the World
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The Last Woman in the World

Inga Simpson

It’s night, and the walls of Rachel’s home creak as they settle into the cover of darkness. Fear has led her to a reclusive life on the land, her only occasional contact with her sister.

A hammering on the door. There stand a mother, Hannah, and her sick baby. They are running for their lives from a mysterious death sweeping the Australian countryside.

Now Rachel must face her worst fears: should she take up the fight to help these strangers survive in a society she has rejected for so long?

From the Miles Franklin- and Stella Prize-longlisted author, who lived through the Australian fires, The Last Woman in the World looks at how we treat our world and each other - and what it is that might ultimately redeem us.


I’ve been a fan of Inga Simpson’s writing ever since I read and reviewed her 2016 novel Where the Trees Were. The natural world always features heavily in her work, and she makes the reader feel like they are experiencing the same landscape, the same sounds, sights and smells as her characters. Simpson’s latest is a departure from her previous works, being more akin to a page-turning thriller than her previous literary novels.

The Last Woman in the World is the story of Rachel, a woman who has done everything she can to remove herself from the world. She lives in a secluded ‘fortress’ in the forest, mostly self-sufficient and off-grid. Her one contact with humankind is Mia, a longtime friend, who delivers essentials and takes away carefully packaged glass works that Rachel produces in her studio. When Mia is uncharacteristically late for a visit, Rachel’s sense of uneasiness starts to grow. Dismissing her fears, she is startled by the arrival of a stranger and her baby. Feeling she has no choice but to help this stranger find her partner in Canberra, Rachel is drawn once again into the world – one that is on fire and where ‘they’ are taking over.

The Last Woman in the World may not be the comfort read most of us are craving right now (with the current state of the world, it feels a little too real), but it is nonetheless a compelling story that I couldn’t put it down. All the trademarks of Simpson’s writing – the beautiful descriptions of the landscape – are present, and it’s obvious she draws on her own experiences of the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires for some of the narrative. Thankfully for the reader, the book does end with a glimmer of hope for humanity!

Sharon Peterson is the manager of Readings St Kilda.

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