Climate Fiction stories tend to enjoy the mid-apocalyptic moment. The seas have risen already, the air already toxic. Meanwhile, we’re living the reality of a climate crisis in a very current way – wildfires, melting ice caps, erratic weather patterns. The sea levels of The Wall (2019) set its story in two ways; as one explanation for the boundary protecting the borders of the UK and also as the only pathway to safe land (for migrants) amidst a worsened ‘migrant crisis.’ There’s something slightly on-the-nose about the way the migrants and asylum-seekers are branded ‘Others’, but it’s enough to establish the situation.
The Wall is a slow burner, but it just gets better and better. Each fifty-word set piece takes a turn further from where you expect the story to sit, exploring more of the world than you thought it would. Kavanagh, the protagonist, enjoys a gentle and gradual romance with Hifa that doesn’t bother disturbing what the book is primarily concerned with. That said, Lanchester ensures that the story is action-led, without ever closely interrogating his subject matter. In some ways, this peripheral vision of the crises that plague The Wall’s world makes them even more haunting and certainly more recognisable.
Lanchester imagines an inter-generational divide – its younger population experiencing an entirely different life to their elders due to the negligence of generations before them. It deals with the entangled morality of the Defenders lightly, in that they barely seem to realise there’s a moral dispute in question. This is why Lanchester’s novel is both entertaining and striking – it could just be sharper. Still, Faber and Faber and John Lanchester deliver a poignant entry to an ever-growing collection of Climate Fiction that exists today.