W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, HC $25.95, Kindle $11.36
What happens to the human population after climate change and the sea levels rise? John Lanchester explores these ideas in his dystopian futuristic novel The Wall. It's not a stretch to equate Trump's vision of a southern border wall to Lanchesters novel; however he is particularly apolitical in his writing. Lanchester relies solely on his character Joseph Kavanagh to pull us through with a first person narrative.
Every person, apart from the elite, are required to serve on the wall, which is a National Coastal Defense Structure. The wall is a 10,000 mile concrete structure surrounding, we assume, Britain. Since the "Change", there are no longer any beaches and it is illegal for anyone to move between countries. Kavanagh is a rookie "Defender" beginning his two year stint on the wall to protect from the "Others" who try to breach the defense system. The rule is: how many "Others" breach your section of the wall, an equal amount of "Defenders" is put to sea. Sincerely motivated and well armed, the Defenders use deadly force.
Kavanagh is a likeable intelligent young man. "So it hits you as a package," Kavanagh describes, "the first time you go to the Wall, on the first day of your tour. You know that you are there for two years. You know that it's basically the same everywhere, as far as the geography goes, but that everything depends on what the people you will be serving with are like...No choice-everything about the Wall means you have no choice." He describes the boredom the incessant cold and the friends he makes. Unfortunately Kavanagh is also isolated in his knowledge because of this military state.
Lanchester briefly delves into these young men and women and their relationship with their parents. There can be no respect between parent and child, because their parents caused the "Change" effectively not only ruining the world they live in, but also any context of the past. Parents are not able to discuss a history where people of other countries interacted, when an "Other" was just another person. The parents in this novel are ashamed, and the children don't want to hear it, they are naturally angry.
Though this may seem bleak, Lanchester leaves us with hope. People are resilient and adaptable. Kavanagh can survive even being thrown off the Wall and survive his sea voyage on a life raft. He can find love and others that become his new friends. He can survive betrayal. This is not a novel of hope, however, but rather a cautionary tale. Perhaps akin to 1984, or The Handmaid's Tale, where authority devolves into evil, The Wall delves into a future where we have ignored climate change, and how that will devolve essential humanity.