The Wall follows the exploits of a young Draftee, Kavanagh, as he does his time patrolling a literal Wall encasing his entire island nation (this name of which is never explicitly revealed). The Wall separates the ‘good’ people of Kavanagh’s homeland from the ‘Others’, sea-faring refugees who are desparately seeking to conquer The Wall and resettle in safe lands. A cataclysmic event (climate change? nuclear war?) has rendered most of the world uninhabitable and plunged most countries beneath the ever-rising sea.
Kavanagh does not initially question the ways of his society. He seeks only to survive his mandatory years on The Wall and then do his best to earn enough money to live comfortably within his heirarchial homeland. The rules of life on The Wall are simple – keep out the Others, or be put to sea yourself.
I had been brought up not to think about the Others in terms of where they came from or who they were, to ignore all that—they were just Others.”
Shifts on The Wall last for 12 monotonous hours, during which Kavanagh and the other ‘Defenders’ must stare out to sea and be prepared – at all times – to fight off any invading Others. Time passes slowly, but Defenders quickly form close familial bonds which helps pass the time. Defenders are well fed and supported by their leadership, and given a respectful wide berth by the rest of society. It is clear that the generation of youths expected to serve in the quasi-military have fractured relationships with their parents, who are held responsible for the sorry state of the world. The only way off The Wall early is to volunteer to become Breeders – as this is a world that is desperate for people to reproduce and have to cajole and bribe to make that a reality. After all, who wants to raise a child on a doomed and damaged planet? (A sentiment very close to home in the real world…)
The book is separated into three parts, ‘The Wall’, ‘The Others’, and ‘The Sea’. As these titles would suggest, Kavanagh’s time on The Wall is… eventful. Things definitely do not go according to his plan.
Lanchester has built a rich and fascinating world in his novel, and my only complaint is that I wished to know more. What happened to the world? How have other countries fared? Is there still UN body? What is life like in the equivalent navy and airforce military branches? I would love to read more novels based in this world but expressed from other points of view. There is so much to explore.
If you’re after a thoughtful dystopian book, this is worth a read.
4 protein bars out of 5.