“Nothing before the sea was real”: a bleak portrait of a future world shaped by global climate change and refugees desperate for a few square feet of dry land.
In the Britain of the near future, there are no beaches. Indeed, as the draftee called Kavanagh tells it, “there isn’t a single beach left, anywhere in the world.” Kavanagh, nicknamed Chewy by his fellow Defenders, has just one job: He has to guard a spot along the Wall (“officially it is the National Coastal Defense Structure”) that now rings the island fortress. It’s a preternaturally cold place, miserable, boring, but the stakes are high, for if any of the refugees called ”The Others“ get over the wall, one of the Defenders is put out to sea, exiled forever. Meanwhile, that Other, when inevitably captured, becomes one of "The Help," essentially enslaved; as the mother of Hifa, a fellow Defender, says, “Another human being at one’s beck and call, just by lifting a finger, simply provided to one, in effect one’s personal property…though of course they are technically the property of the state.” Kavanagh is diligent if bitter, especially toward the parents who avert their eyes when they see him, ashamed that they let the Change occur, ashamed that their world has come to all this. Unashamed, as impenetrable as the Wall, is the Captain, Kavanagh’s commander, who in time reveals that the monolithic state of elites, soldiers, and all the rest is less impervious than it appears, bringing on a sequence of events that finds Kavanagh, Hifa, and the Captain on the outside, in a Hobbesian world, desperate to get back in. Lanchester’s view is unblinking, his prose assured, a matter of "if” and "then”: This is what happens when the sea rises, this is what happens when an outsider lands in a place where life has little meaning and the only certain things are the Wall, the cold, the water, and death.
Dystopian fiction done just right, with a scenario that’s all too real.