••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Review
The Wall by John Lanchester
F&F publishers 2019
Sam Hawksmoor review
“It’s cold on the wall.”
So it begins. Type 1 cold is bad. You dread Type 2. Sometimes Defenders, those who stand on the wall 12 hours on, 12 off, are so wrapped up against the cold you can’t even tell what sex they are.
This is the future of the UK. Is it a metaphor or a blueprint? It’s definitely about climate change but very hazy on the details.
Kavanagh (Chewy to other Defenders) is performing his National Service. Two years on the wall. All the young must do it. Some even do it more than once for the ‘benefits’. The mindnumbingly bleak standing for 12 hours, rifle in hand, waiting for ‘The Others’ to attack. You don’t really know who the ‘Others’ are except that they are desperate, coming from places where their governments didn’t have the foresight to build an incredibly high concrete wall right around their country to keep the sea out.
Nothing is quite spelled out in The Wall. Specifics are left to your imagination. You’re spending time (doing time) with Kavanagh, Sarge, Hifa (who once disrobed turns out to be a girl) Hughes and the sneaky Captain who keeps them all sharp, every ready for the ‘Others’ to strike, guns and rocket launchers at the ready. In reality present day Migrants in their rubber rafts aren’t armed. In this future world they are.
The Defenders are the only ones keeping the UK safe from outsiders who might steal their jobs or food or worse – breed.
Kavanagh is remarkably uninformed and unambitious. Although he’d quite like to be part of the elite, those that somehow avoid service on the Wall. He doesn’t seem to know how the ‘Change’ came about or shows little interest in it. All he knows is that he has to stand on the wall and be ready 12 hours on, 12 hours off. He doesn’t look over the wall (he might be grabbed by grasping hands). He stares into the darkness, hates his boring parents who brought him into this world knowing that ‘The Change’ had already happened. Hifa suggests that they could become ‘breeders’. It brings privileges and lesser duties. Kavanagh is interested.
They all put their trust in The Captain who patrols, warns, trains, whom, it is rumoured was once an ‘Other’. Others who are captured have a choice become ‘help’ otherwise known as slaves, or patrol The Wall. The Captain is back for his fourth rotation. Which Kavanagh thinks is way beyond dedication.
There’s a catch, of course, there’s always a catch. If you somehow fail to kill an ‘Other’ and they get in, you will be sent out to sea in their place. No ifs and buts. You have only one choice, kill them as fast as they can get their grappling hooks onto the wall. You learn to shoot to kill and stay ready. It can come at anytime. And it's very cold on the wall.
Bleak, compulsive, worryingly prescient. The Wall = Brexit = Change. Read it at your peril.
Sam Hawksmoor July 2019
author J&K 4Ever