Book Review - ‘The Wall’

I’ve not written a review in some time now, this has not been due to my lack of trying or a waning desire to write about what I’ve been reading, it all comes down to the slow, trudging progress I’ve made in the past few books. A clawing literary mud, dark and wet. The sort of deluge of metaphors and prose which gives you no reason to carry on, but fall to your knees and expire from exhaustion. My malaise comes in the form of poorly written essays on rock lighthouses, ‘Seashaken Houses’ by Tom Nancollas, which lead to to be as confused as the book is itself, floating on the surface of whether they’re meant to be historical nonfiction, autobiography, travelogue or poetry; and the racist, confoundingly badly written works of HP Lovecraft in ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. This collection of short stories is a work beyond compare in its slurs, racial discrimination and poorly worded and weakly drawn characters, so bad was this anthology I did something I’ve not done in my memory, I put it down. Normally this would result in some level of guilt, a voice in the back of my head that wonders if the book will get better, what if? What if? What if?… but no.

I’ve not felt so dejected about the act of reading in a long time, so disconnected from my self and my minds eye that nothing has provoked images to form in my mind, nothing has gotten me to read longer than I should have, that is until I picked up John Lanchester’s ‘The Wall’

It follows in the well-trodden footsteps of authors like Atwood, Orwell and Ishiguro to create worlds of dystopia. All books look to create Utopia, a word Atwood coined that describes a world that combines utopia and dystopia; one person's dystopia is another’s utopia. Lanchester's classic dystopia is much the same. Britain has raised a coastal wall that completely encompasses the nation, the seas have risen and climate refugees are floating across the oceans searching for a safe haven. Without talking about the book any further it’s obvious that this book is very of the moment. Nationalism is splitting apart international treaties, Tribalism divides friends and families and the fear of ‘the other’ is everywhere. In The Wall, the mysterious ‘others’ are apparently driving themselves against the concrete walls of Britain, a ten thousand kilometre white cliff of Dover. Following a young man who goes by Kavanagh, we begin to understand what it means to work atop the wall in this Britain which feels as if it could be five minutes in the future. The central character is given to you as being this young man, Kavanagh and the people that surround him; his friends on the wall and his estranged family. The familial ties which Lanchester questions throughout the book are so thinly strained by two perspectives. The first being that of Kavanagh and people like him, the feeling of anger and shame that their parents never stood up or took action to stop the ‘change’ that we learn more about as we are guided into this world riddled by rising sea levels, food shortages and huge levels of climate refugees. The other perspective which is not explored in as much depth but is always there is the parents perspective, the feeling of guilt and of loss. The world they’d grown up with is gone, the luxuries that we all know no longer exist. The beauty of Lanchester’s book is that we are those parents. The characters riddled with shame, with a gnawing feeling that they could’ve and should’ve done more to prevent irreparable climate change. A book with the power to show a mirror to the anxiety of a generation of not only the devastation of the planet bu their fear of being responsible for it is something that should be applauded. 

Within a world rocked by the constant waves of an angrier sea, boiling waters frothing over the ramparts of an insular society; The Wall is a tsunami of social morality which washes away all sceptics and exposes the horrible truths of a world in which climate change goes on with no intervention. The Wall is a truly wonderful book which looks to engage you in the here and now on issues of nativism, tribalism and what happens when we turn our backs on those most in need of our help. A quiet hymn for humanity that is seeking a gentler ocean. I implore you to pick it up.