John Lanch­ester’s vis­ceral novel The Wall

John Lanch­ester’s novel The Wall por­trays a dystopia that’s all too re­al­is­able

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

Read­ing the first cou­ple of pages of John Lanch­ester’s new novel,

The Wall, you might find your­self won­der­ing if he’s watched Game

of Thrones; or rather, wor­ry­ing that he hasn’t. A new re­cruit is ush­ered, in dark­ness and cold, to a gar­gan­tuan wall that sur­rounds an un­named coun­try. He knows he has to be there for two years, dur­ing which he and his fel­low “De­fend­ers” must fo­cus on noth­ing but pro­tect­ing the wall from in­cur­sions from some mys­te­ri­ous group — called “The Oth­ers” — and sur­viv­ing.

So far so Night’s Watch, but as the de­tails start to ap­pear through the mist, the premise of Lanch­ester’s novel emerges from the va­garies of fan­tas­ti­cal al­le­gory into some­thing far more sin­is­ter. This is, in fact, Bri­tain, but one whose global stance has de­scended into iso­la­tion­ist para­noia (though, of course, just be­cause you’re para­noid doesn’t mean The Oth­ers aren’t out to get you). Mean­while, the sea lev­els have risen so high the beaches have dis­ap­peared, and The Wall now traces a near-ex­act perime­ter of the coun­try. Is this a dystopian vi­sion of our fu­ture? Or rather a very log­i­cal pro­gres­sion from the sta­tus quo?

The Wall, how­ever, wears its polemic lightly: what we get in­stead is a grip­ping and gory novel about that first new re­cruit, Ka­vanagh, or “Chewy” as he is quickly nick­named, as he ac­cli­ma­tises to life on pa­trol, be­friends his fel­low re­cruits, and starts to un­der­stand the vis­ceral na­ture of the task they are be­ing asked to per­form. Lanch­ester writes lyri­cally about the at­trac­tions of ca­ma­raderie, and how they can teeter on con­form­ity; he also, when he needs to, does a very ab­sorb­ing fight scene, with the ac­tion reach­ing ex­hil­a­rat­ing heights in the fi­nal third of the book

(if the film or TV rights haven’t al­ready been bought, con­sider this a tip-off).

But mostly what we’re left with is a ques­tion: how much of our hu­man­ity can we pre­serve once we ac­cept a so­ci­ety driven by fear? We may not have to wait long to find out.

The Wall (Faber) is out on 17 Jan­uary

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