On an off-shore windfarm in the North Sea, the Boy, who no longer is a boy, and the Old Man, who already worked with the Boy’s father before he disappeared, are tasked with the upkeep of the wind turbines while living on a maintenance rig. Their relationship is plagued by mistrust and resentment, but they need each other desperately; the work is not only dull and repetitive, but ultimately futile as the turbines are slowly corroding more and more, land has become a foreign concept to them, and the only other person they see is the Pilot who brings them supplies once in a while. Then the Boy, unexpectedly, discovers a possible escape.
Doggerland, the land that connected Great Britain and continental Europe, was flooded more than 6,000 years ago and has been submerged beneath the North Sea since then, and although it is never clearly explained, it seems that in this near future, rising sea levels have once again reclaimed land, and also caused civilization to deteriorate along the way. The characters have been isolated for years and have no idea what is really happening on the mainland. They are just cogs in the system, working for the Company and endlessly repairing the turbines that are slowly breaking down and corroding in the harsh elements, and the vastness of the windfarm and the sea is the contrast to the unbearably claustrophobic and isolated life they lead.
On the one hand, not much is happening in this book, although there is some action when the Boy tries to escape the farm, and nothing is ever explained, but on the other, the atmosphere is fantastic. The windfarm with its endless rows of turbines forms an impressive backdrop to the story because it is not only a prison, but a home and a lifeline all in one. The Boy desperately wants to escape it, but when he gets to the end, he is afraid of the open sea. When he finds a newer turbine with a small conference room inside, he is stumped not only by the coffee machine, but also the unfamiliar engine of the turbine that he does not know how to repair.
Overall, this is a slow book that asks you to just go along for the ride and not ask too many questions, and as a whole, it is very heavy on the allegories, for instance when it comes to the relationship between humanity and nature. The Boy and the Old Man don’t live on solid ground anymore, they live on a man-made rig and the platforms of the turbines, and they can’t walk anywhere, they move around on a boat with an engine. They grow no food, but only eat from cans the supply boat brings, and the sea around them is too polluted to provide them with fresh fish. The turbines full of rust that are slowly breaking down no matter how much they work on them mirror a civilization that is decaying and losing the fight against nature, because how can humankind or any structure or machinery it built resist the way of the world? It can’t, obviously.
What also impressed me is the way Smith develops the relationship between the Boy and the Old Man. There is an evolution it goes through over the course of the book, and the resolve of the issues that plagued them is done just masterfully. This relationship, at least, shows some of humanity’s strengths, in that cooperation and resilience help them to make a life even in the most adverse of conditions, but, on the downside, even that feels like cold comfort in light of the bleakness and desolation of this particular world that has no future at all.
CBR13 Bingo: Machinery