Doggerland by Ben Smith

The waters of the world have pushed back the land, driven over it, covered the earth leaving a sea of particles, plastics and life built upon the waves. The Boy is stuck with the old man repairing the turbines on a huge wind farm. Is there still land? The novel doesn’t really ever say definitively.

What we do know is that Boy’s father disappeared when his contract was unfinished, leaving Boy to fulfil it. They watch the system to alert them to faults and they take the maintenance boat and try and fix the turbines, try and keep them generating electricity.

Once in a while the supply boat comes. You can trade with the pilot for more than food, which comes in tins, food that’s made in factories and tastes nothing like what the old man remembers of food grown in soil or farmed on the land.

What really happened to Boy’s father? He’d always promised to come back to Boy and his mother, but he never did.

Something about the strained optimism, the boredom of maintenance and repair, of working inside a controlled system, reminds me not only of the classics, of Kafka and Beckett, but also of Magnus Mills. This is a very male drawn out whimper of an ending-of-world scenario but it’s compelling and beautiful in its stark focus on the grey stretch of waves, weather and work.

There aren’t any answers here, there is just the desire to keep going, that wonderful glimmer pushing survival forwards in the hope of something more than function.

I really enjoyed this novel. I liked being swallowed by it, sometimes confused by how the past and present become washed into one same swell of salty water, but always also surprised by what might still be discovered between people, across the farm and perhaps further across the sea.

The title too, is of course significant. It refers to the submerged landscape in the North Sea, a landscape the development of a wind farm off the Norfolk coast has helped to uncover more about. The idea that a wind farm built now reveals evidence of a land once connected to Europe and now submerged has that wonderful cyclical feel as the wind farm of the novel shows the mutability of our present land as water continues to ebb and flow over us, constantly creating new Doggerlands lost beneath the waves. There’s a real mythic, unpretentious and quiet poetry to this novel. Out early April 2019, I thoroughly recommend it.

Next week I’m reading The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.

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