Saturday 7 December 2019

The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde   {Reviewed by STELLA} 
Maja Lunde, the author of the bestseller The History of Bees, turns her attention to water in her latest novel, The End of The Ocean. Like her first book, this doesn’t feel like the distant future. As fires rage in Australia, the plight of David and his young daughter running towards relative safety is immediate and prescient. This is a book of two linked stories, each as compelling as the other, so you never feel deprived of either when the timeline changes. In 2017, Norwegian Signe, activist and sailor, is making a trip back to her home village. A witness to the chipping away of the glacier to provide special ice cubes for exclusive drinks, she is appalled and critical of her fellow past associates, particularly her ex-partner. Selling out for capital gain or to improve the financial lives of the community is an argument that has not and doesn’t sit well with Signe. On a quest to make a protest, she sails across the ocean to confront her ex-lover. She is driven, passionate and angry, as well as sad. Sad for what has been, what could have been, and what is lost. Lunde delves back into Signe's early life, revealing the circumstances that have made her the eco-warrior she is. And it’s a great story about small communities, about village politics, and being an outsider. Jump to 2041 and meet a father, David, and child, his daughter Lou, newly arrived at a refugee camp. Fleeing fire in the south of France, they are awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family, David's wife and baby son. Days pass, the food and water are depleting. The Red Cross has no information. As more people arrive, the camp becomes unstable and David, at the end of his tether, seeks release by wandering through the mostly abandoned town. David and Lou come across a boat — a small sailing boat perched on a trailer — on a property near the once water-filled river canal. Secured above ground, the boat becomes a refuge for David and a source of imaginative games for Lou. It’s a place away from the chaos of the camp and the danger of flaring tempers as the resources dwindle. In Lunde's first cli-fi book, the focus was bees; here it is fresh and clean water. In 2017, Signe is tackling the commercialisation of water: who owns it and who can sell it. Lunde is clearly sending us some very direct messages about our current behaviour. In 2041, the issue of water is survival — it’s a priority and an obsession. While this is labelled a ‘dystopia’, it doesn’t feel far from fact. Climate fiction can be unrelenting, and there are definite challenges within the pages of The End of the Ocean, but Lunde cleverly draws out characters and stories that are human — her protagonists are not perfect and don't have all the answers, but they are tough and humane, ready to seek connection and hope to survive. There are many dystopian climate-focussed novels currently circulating as this topic becomes hotter and more pressing. Some are bleaker than others. This is well-written, compelling and involving. This is the second in Lunde's climate quartet, so there is more to look forward to. Also try The End We Start From by Megan Hunter, if you like something a little more lyrical or oblique.

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