The Last Woman in the World by Inga Simpson
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!