The Last Days by Ali Millar, reviewed by Taylor Beckett
‘There was never any possibility of escaping God… God was the whole world, and I was his puppet’
Ali Miller’s The Last Days is a haunting memoir of a girl paralysed by the beliefs instilled in her by others. Ali is a Jehovah’s witness taught from an early age to prepare for the end of days, when good Christians will live in eternity while sinners perish. She was born in Scotland to a single mother who relies heavily upon the religious community and raises her daughters in it.
Ali’s connections, her worldview and her inner thoughts are somebody else’s construct. Even in the confines of her own mind, Ali can’t escape her conditioning to be a good and loyal follower of Jehovah. She anxiously awaits the end of days and squashes down any rebellious thoughts, fearful of her impending annihilation should her sins be uncovered — “sin” being a broad term describing any non-conformance from the teachings of Kingdom Hall. Such teachings which include a prohibition on worldly music, reading philosophy, associating with the disfellowed, and celebrating Christmas. Pursuing higher education and having friends outside of the religion are also against the faith.
Ali struggles to conform from an early age. Her enjoyment of Christmas dinner (eaten after Christmas) is impossible to consolidate with her sense of right and wrong. She flirts with the idea of secretly being two people. One who follows Jehovah’s word and one who carries a tiny flame of independence. This triggers bouts of anxious disassociation which morph into self-destructive behaviour. Her trauma is of the most insidious kind. Unable to confront the source of her anxiety, Ali wavers between her suffocating reality and her conditioning against sin. She longs for freedom but can’t admit it to herself, else risk annihilation. She is trapped in her own body. Her enmeshment with religion is highlighted by the chapter headings which are rich in religious iconography. Her religion frames her existence until a new connection forces Ali to examine her life and seriously consider the impossible — escape.
The Last Days is a remarkable memoir. Raw and unflinching, Ali lays bare her most intimate moments as a confession to the reader — this is the cost of faith.
As I read, I just wanted to reach through the pages and rescue her. I felt her dread and despair, and her courage and strength are incredible. While the subject matter is challenging, Ali Millar clearly has a gift for writing. She is emotive and honest, and I became so invested in her story that I couldn’t wait for the ending and googled her. This is Ali Millar’s debut novel. I can’t wait to learn what she does next.
Taylor Beckett is a Brisbane based bookworm with a lifelong habit of procrasti-reading. When not reading, she studies a PhD in sustainable textiles at QUT.