••• The International Writers Magazine - 23 Years on-line - Review
The High House by Jessie Greengrass
Sam Hawksmoor review
The Climate is not our friend
There is a tradition harking back to 'Earth Abides' by George R Stewart (1949) and before that H G Wells to offer up bleak assessments of the end of humanity due to pandemics or climate catastrophes. J G Ballard wrote 'Flood' which puts London underwater with the accompanying chaos and of course never forget '28 Days Later' one of the best bleak apocalyptic movies. I have also been guilty of this with my own catastrophic take on a pandemic with ‘AnotherPlace to Die: Endtime Chronicles’ and a cli-fi novel Mission Longshot that posits that we can’t actually outrun climate change by taking to space. And if we tried - how few could possibly be saved? In my own work I try to offer hope rather than despair but Jessie Greengrass has gone the George R Stewart way and offers only despair in the best possible package.
Of course she may not be wrong. The Artic and Antarctica will melt. We will not keep the global temperature rise below 1.5c and in fact most likely hit 3C within fifteen years with horrendous consequences for us all.
The High House carefully keeps the sheer horror of what is happening to the rest of the world at a distance in her story. Fewer people come to the their holiday homes, shortages develop, local floods alter the river's flow. We concentrate of the lives of Caro (18) and Pauly (4) urgently sent to live at their summer cottage by the sea, in what might be Devon. Their parents are away at a climate conference in Florida. Which is unfortunate for them as Florida is about to flood and stay flooded forever. They won't be heard from again.
Caro and Pauly catch a train to the end of the line - find no transportation at the station and must walk the last eight miles. They arrive exhausted to find Sally (21) and Grandy (old) in place as caretakers in the High House. Pauly’s mother has thought of everything that will help them survive the coming great floods that have already taken the nearby homes. Grandy is the village local handyman and knows all the ways of growing vegetables keeping things going. But he’s old with a hip replacement, he can’t last. Sally has had to quit University to care for him and is a little bit resentful to have to care for Caro and Pauly too. But care she must because she knows that they will be some of the last survivors of a drowned world.
Of course you’d like a happy ending but climate change is not about happy endings. It’s the next stage in evolution and mankind with all it’s squandering of resources is not part of the equation. Nor it seems are the fish and the birds. The four of them must make a rapid adjustment of their hopes and ambitions and learn to live with nature. For young Pauly it's an adventure and the girls do all they can to teach him reliance - but it's a hard life particularly in winter.
Beautifully written. It’s a character study in young lives coming to terms with an uncertain future and a perhaps a warning to us all that even if we stockpile everything we can think of – nothing lasts. Just like the novel 'Earth Abides' it is a book about despair not hope but well worth reading for all that. You might want to head to higher ground after reading it – sooner rather than later…