It’s great when you choose to read a book from an author you have never previously encountered and end up wanting more. John Lanchester, whose novel “The Wall” found its way into my possession after a recent expedition to Waterstones, is such writer. Like Sarah Perry, Donna Tartt, John Ironmonger, Sebastian Barry and many recently discovered others, I’m sure I will be adding more of John’s work to my collection.
The ‘Longlisted for the Booker Prize’ logo on the front cover was in part my guide. It seems to be a decent yardstick for good writing – as does a Pulitzer Prize recognition in the US. Even though it was clearly going to be some kind of futuristic, dystopian view of the world, I thought I’d give it a try. And I’m glad I did.
Obviously resonating with the world we currently inhabit, the novel is something of a metaphor, a warning about our potential future, one shaped by isolationism, nationalism, climate change, refugee crises, class divide, totalitarianism. One of the small details that makes it so jarring is that it is partly set in Ilfracombe, a typically English tourist hotspot turned into just another part of ‘fortress Britain’ that could, in Lanchester’s world, be just about anywhere in the UK.
Like all good writing, it generates an attachment to the main characters; you feel for them, are invested in them. There is a spareness, a hardness about the writing at times which echoes their physical reality too. And whilst it would have been easy to do so [spoiler alert!], Lanchester resists the temptation to come up with a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending, a nirvana where the enlightened are given the opportunity to see the error of their ways. There is hope, but it is narrow and qualified – yet no less welcome for all that!
I’m looking forward to trying more of his work.