India Today

I Will Sur­vive

In a story made dystopian by cli­mate change, it is our fu­ture that writes back

- —Suryapra­tim Roy Literature · Arts · Iceland · Europe · Austria · Elsa Lanchester · England · Franz Kafka · Josef K

In his es­say The Great Derange­ment, Ami­tav Ghosh ar­gues that the modern novel cel­e­brates ‘bour­geois reg­u­lar­ity’ to the point of derange­ment. This is how lit­er­a­ture and pol­i­tics are com­plicit: both lit­er­ary and po­lit­i­cal choices have fo­cused on se­cur­ing a set­tle­ment in the wilder­ness, a se­cure, fo­cused nar­ra­tive. There is a pro­tag­o­nist who nar­rows down time and space, and tells a story within such con­fines. This ex­plains why the cli­mate change novel never took off ex­cept in the marginalis­ed genre of science fic­tion, as there is lit­tle chance for un­canny forces to desta­bilise a hu­man nar­ra­tive. Ghosh sought to rec­tify this in Gun Is­land, where trop­i­cal spi­ders ap­pear in Europe and un­ex­pected mi­gra­tion flows over time might al­low a Ben­gali warn­ing to save your life at a Vene­tian con­struc­tion site. John Lanch­ester’s The Wall

also fo­cuses on cli­mate change and mi­gra­tion. A Man Booker nom­i­na­tion shows that a fan­tasy novel on these is­sues is no longer marginalis­ed. Set in an in­de­ter­mi­nate fu­ture, the Change has drowned most of world. Eng­land sur­vives and has lit­er­ally walled off its coast; beaches ex­ist only on videos recorded by guilty par­ents. All the re­sent­ful chil­dren are re­quired to serve time on the Wall, de­fend­ing the coast­line from the Oth­ers. Killing them on sight or be killed.

There are two telling de­tails pro­vided early on in the book: if an Other slips past a De­fender, the De­fender is put to sea. The only way to get off this de­fence-con­scrip­tion is to be a Breeder, or have chil­dren. No one in the younger gen­er­a­tion wants to bring a child into this world and though trained to kill mi­grants on sight, they pos­sess both ami­able hu­mour and a strong moral con­science. They sym­pa­thise with the plight of the Oth­ers but also have a strong sense of duty. The nar­ra­tor, a De­fender, takes the reader through three very dif­fer­ent moods: the lone­li­ness of be­ing on the Wall, the in­va­sion of Oth­ers, where death could hap­pen any sec­ond, and be­ing in the open sea on a lifeboat look­ing for warmth and food, small is­land com­mu­ni­ties and the ab­sence of pi­rates. What is com­mon to these moods is the steady, per­sonal voice of the nar­ra­tor, grasp­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of food and rest, at the joy of an oil lamp in the open sea. If Ghosh seeks to desta­bilise bour­geois reg­u­lar­ity in the wake of cli­mate change, Lanch­ester seeks to re­vive it. The novel’s fidelity to a sin­gu­lar sen­sory con­scious­ness guides us through some dis­turb­ing and murky ter­rain. It is tempt­ing to root for the out­num­bered nar­ra­tor in a shoot-out against the Oth­ers. The cap­tain of the De­fend­ers used to be an Other and the novel in­vites us to be sus­pi­cious of him. Oil might have been in­stru­men­tal in de­stroy­ing the world, but an oil rig may be the nar­ra­tor’s last hope for warmth and shel­ter. The nar­ra­tor of The Wall is Joseph Ka­vanagh. Much like Franz Kafka’s Josef K., there is a mo­ment in the novel where he is tried with­out him hav­ing a say. Per­haps Lanch­ester sug­gests that the non-ne­go­tia­bil­ity of our times is a never-end­ing trial, no mat­ter which side you’re on. How­ever, un­like the dis­ori­ented Josef K, Ka­vanagh is the au­thor of his story. And he has a plot.

 ??  ?? THE WALL by John Lanch­ester FABER & FABER `699; 288 pages
THE WALL by John Lanch­ester FABER & FABER `699; 288 pages
 ??  ?? JOHN LANCH­ESTER
JOHN LANCH­ESTER
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