A fore­cast odyssey

Ex­treme weather is just one ob­sta­cle to get­ting home.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CULTURE - By ANN PACKER

In an all too be­liev­ably im­mi­nent world – be­set by cli­mate change and over­run by refugees – who is safe? Mhairi is a sur­vivor. She’s man­aged the long jour­ney from Equa­tor Cen­tral (Khar­toum) to Equa­tor North (Lon­don) armed only with a gun but no bul­lets, her iden­tity pa­pers and a grubby cloth to hold food scraps. She’s sur­vived dis­ease and de­ten­tion, as­sas­sins, heat and cold.

Al­most at the bor­der with Scot­land, Nicky Singer’s canny lass is mak­ing her way home to Ar­ran, af­ter be­ing stranded with her aid-worker par­ents in Africa. She is within a burn’s reach of safety – ex­cept now, she has a com­pan­ion, a child who is both mute and dark-skinned. Her big­gest sur­vival chal­lenge yet? She must pass the child off as her kin.

Con­stantly guided by her Papa’s words of wis­dom – “Who knows what’s use­ful nowa­days?”, he once warned her mother – Mhairi’s world is de­scribed in bleakly beau­ti­ful prose. Storms are one of the penal­ties the north (and south) pays for the in­crease in global tem­per­a­tures, an up­rooted tree is like a gi­ant mush­room, a tepid shower is a cloak of wa­ter and home is walk­ing some­where where you don’t need a map – “Where the land­scape is laid in your heart.”

In spite of the per­vad­ing theme of sur­vival, the ti­tle only re­ally be­comes per­ti­nent in the last chap­ters, when a chill­ing twist pulls all the threads into align­ment.

In the end, as Papa said, “You have to be­lieve in the good­ness of peo­ple.”

THE SUR­VIVAL GAME, by Nicky Singer (Ha­chette, $20)

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