“It was like living with a chronically sick smoker except the smoker was the world and everyone was trapped in its fouled and collapsing lungs.”
This paragraph is illustrative of the big picture subtext of Booker Prize winning author Richard Flanagan’s superb new novel, THE LIVING SEA OF WAKING DREAMS. Environmental issues envelop the story, the world wide web of wild life extinction, wild weather, a wilderness of political and social will.
The more intimate narrative of the story is the end of life process perpetrated by the medical profession and by families clinging to the last vestiges of denial, postponing the grieving, and the facing, perhaps, of their own mortality.
The lie that implies postponing death is life permeates Flanagan’s fired up fable, the prevalent, idiotic idea that saving someone from death by prolonging their dying is a pursuit worth engaging. In Flanagan’s view, the palliative has become appallingly unpalatable.
“The formidable technology …had proved too much for their mother’s failing organs, too overwhelming for her filling lungs and drowning heart to oppose. Their horrific goodness had multiplied into so many entanglements of tube and torment – binding her to pain. The clacking, ticking, beeping machines counted things that were not life yet refused dying. It was all done out of love- nothing so cruel was possible to emerge out of hate alone.”
Anna’s mother Francie is dying. And simultaneously, parts of Annie’s anatomy are disappearing, digits and limbs vanishing like species, appendages dissolving into apparitions, physiology becoming phantasm. Climate change personified. And nobody seems to notice.
By using this device, Flanagan forces us to notice, to contemplate the astonishing vanishing that is going on around us, day by day.
Denial of climate change, like the denial of the death of a loved one, is futile. It is a recipe for catastrophe. A more restorative recipe is to dice regrets, add knowledge, knead, let nature rise, and leave greed to ferment out.
Beautifully written, THE LIVING SEA OF WAKING DREAMS is also a beautifully bound and presented book, a triumph of design and aesthetically pleasing.
THE LIVING SEA OF WAKING DREAMS by Richard Flanagan is published by Knopf