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The Wall

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Ravaged by the Change, an island nation in a time very like our own has built the Wall―an enormous concrete barrier around its entire coastline. Joseph Kavanagh, a new Defender, has one task: to protect his section of the Wall from the Others, the desperate souls who are trapped amid the rising seas outside and are a constant threat. Failure will result in death or a fate perhaps worse: being put to sea and made an Other himself. Beset by cold, loneliness, and fear, Kavanagh tries to fulfill his duties to his demanding Captain and Sergeant, even as he grows closer to his fellow Defenders. A dark part of him wonders whether it would be interesting if something did happen, if they came, if he had to fight for his life.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 17, 2019

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About the author

John Lanchester

28 books526 followers
John Lanchester is the author of four novels and three books of non-fiction. He was born in Germany and moved to Hong Kong. He studied in UK. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.

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5 stars
2,538 (16%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,845 reviews
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,106 followers
September 4, 2019
Dull, pedestrian dystopia

I’m not really sure who the target readership is for The Wall , John Lanchester’s Booker-longlisted novel about a post climate change future. As a work of genre fiction – a cli-fi dystopia – it is derivative and stale. It’s also unsatisfying as literary fiction, with flat prose, undeveloped themes and cardboard characters. The callow young narrator and a tendency to over-explain the obvious might tip it towards the YA category, but YA readers are likely to find it plodding and dull.

The plot ambles aimlessly, then rushes to a deeply unsatisfying conclusion. Atmosphere and world-building are lacklustre, while character development is scant. We are introduced to a couple of duplicitous, potentially interesting individuals, but those stories end up going nowhere.

The expository set-up takes up the first quarter of the book. That’s a lot of info-dumping to foist on a reader before the plot fires up but even so, the world-building is thin, full of hoary clichés and bland terminology: Defenders, Others, Breeders, the Change, the Wall. Tedious details are numerous (the dimensions of the Wall, the Defenders’ daily routine, etc) while important ones are omitted (why does an island nation need to gird itself with a 10,000km solid wall against leaky refugee boats? Where’s the Navy? Why hasn’t their economy totally collapsed? Did they close off all the ports too? Why are traitors put out to sea on a small, well-provisioned boat instead of just executing them?)

Perhaps in keeping with the laxity of world-building, The Wall pays little heed to causal effects of the Change, thus torpedoing its worth as a credible climate change novel. Sea levels have risen so much that ‘there are no beaches left in the world’ but the characters catch a train to a seemingly unaltered London – surely the Thames would swallow half the city. Elsewhere, an unnamed river “still looks more or less the same” as before the Change; this is handwaved away as ‘accidents of topography’. Supplies of comestibles like tea, chocolate, and beef are apparently unaffected by a worldwide climate catastrophe. But the most implausible aspects of the book are too spoiler-y to mention.

These critiques could be brushed aside if this narrative worked as a fable, social comment, allegory or cautionary tale, but I thought it was equally facile in that respect. The book fumbles with issues of nativism and xenophobia, but fails to properly interrogate this theme or offer any insights. A really good dystopian novel can pose existential questions, hold a mirror to society, reframe the human experience, or skewer preconceptions. The Wall offers nothing so sophisticated and relies on the reader to extrapolate meaning from its malleable premise.

For me, The Wall was about as nuanced as a giant slab of grey concrete, and just as interesting. 1.5 stars.
Profile Image for Paula K (on hiatus).
414 reviews424 followers
October 30, 2019
Longlisted for the Booker prize 2019

I very much enjoyed this suspenseful and atmospheric dystopian novel. Maybe because it is so plausible.

THERE ARE NO BEACHES LEFT...the Change has happened and the climate is past fixing. Set on an island (sounds like the UK) British author, John Lanchester, takes the reader to The Wall. It’s COLD, very COLD, and the author makes you feel like you are there. The Defenders man The Wall which surrounds the border. Young people are drafted for 2 years to protect The Wall so The Others can’t get in. Resources must be protected. There are not enough for The Others floating on the sea. The job is perilous. Let anyone breach The Wall and you are put to sea on just a raft with some supplies. Now you are an Other...

Don’t expect a character driven novel. This is all about what it is like to live in this changed environment and surviving. Current politics taken to the near future - irreversible climate change, isolationism, and anti-immigration.

I listened to the audiobook on Hoopla and the narrator did a fabulous job. Loved his voice. Perfect for this book. The Wall was definitely my type of dystopian.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Profile Image for Meike.
1,474 reviews2,308 followers
July 29, 2019
Now Nominated for the Booker Prize 2019
The genius of Lanchester's "The Wall" is that this dystopia simply envisions what might happen if we go on like this: The sea levels have risen dramatically due to climate change, Britain has build a wall around the whole island, and people who flee from the South to the North are combated like enemies in a war. Is this the most subtle book ever written? Hell no, but this author does not seem to think that the problems we are facing scream for excessive subtlety, and I don't blame him for it.

At the beginning of the book, our narrator Joseph Kavanagh starts his mandatory military service as a "Defender" (yes, there's some newspeak - hello, Orwell!): At all times, 50.000 enlistees are standing on the defense wall to keep "the Others" out. Vast parts of the first third of the book mirror the mixture of boredom, fear, and anger that possesses the soldiers during their service, and Lanchester develops a theme that proved to be the most fascinating to me: He questions the dynamics of blame, guilt and responsibility. Young people blame their parents for letting "the Change" (i.e. climate change) happen, but the majority of society as a whole approves of the wall, the killing and the enslavement of refugees and also the fact that those "Defenders" who fail to keep foreigners out are themselves exiled to the sea - so almost every young person is threatened to become one of "the Others", and what would happen then?

When finally a big attack occurs, the novel gains speed and becomes a real page-turner. I was particularly fascinated by the role of a high-ranking soldier who was one of the last refugees who made it into the country without being killed and then became a "Defender" - this character illustrates the connection between perspective, fear, and ethics. At the same time, Kavanagh is sometimes hard to bear as a narrator: He feels victimized and constantly expects people to apologize (which they don't do) without realizing that he himself - a guy who borrows slaves and stands on a wall to kill refugees - certainly cannot claim innocence or moral superiority. In this story, most people point their fingers at each other and do nothing, which is of course how all great man-made catastrophes happen.

So all in all, this book is a little crude, and it's not the most literary text ever written - which at the same time makes sense, of course, because the narrative voice is true to Kavanagh, the narrator. You have to give it to Lanchester though that he talks about important issues and points out the cynicism that is at the heart of right-wing nationalism. And while Lanchester claims that Brexit wasn't his main focus when he wrote the book, though he was certainly influenced by it, the book is clearly more terrifying if you have been following British politics, which is currently operating in a mode of self-destruction. This doesn't mean that this book isn't relevant for and reflective of tendencies in other parts of the world as well. For me as a citizen of a country that was divided by a wall where refugees did get shot, it's aggravating to think that walls are still discussed as policy, when in fact they are a means of war.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
770 reviews1,147 followers
October 23, 2019
"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."

Npc Maga GIF - Npc Maga Wall GIFs

Wall:  "A high thick masonry structure forming a long rampart or an enclosure chiefly for defense" . (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

For millennia, humans have built walls to keep people in -- and to keep people out.  We've all unfortunately heard trump's spiel about how we need to build a wall to keep out all those "criminals, drug dealers, rapists" (ie "Others").  How we need to defend our "great" 🤔 country and keep out all the evil others who would surely harm us and take what belongs to us, if given the chance to weasel their way into this great (cough, cough) land.

Americans are not alone in wanting to keep out "OTHERS".  Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise throughout the Western world.  In The Wall, John Lanchester imagines a time in the near future when climate change (the Change) has made resources scarce in much of the world.  The novel takes place in an unnamed island country (the citizens speak with British slang and I took it to be England/UK) where a wall has been erected around its entire perimeter.  Because the citizens of this country have sufficient resources, they are worried about Others coming and taking what they think is rightfully theirs.  Indeed, people do try to get over the wall and because of that, each citizen (excluding the few Elite) must do a 2 year stint as a Defender of the Wall.  

As our protagonist Joseph quickly finds out, the Wall is a brutally cold place and the shifts are long and tortuous.  One mustn't ever let down one's guard, because Others might sneak over the wall and if that happens, whoever is on watch will be banished.  They will have the chip removed that allows them to function as a citizen of this country, and be put on a raft out to sea.  

I loved the first two-thirds of this book; it is told from Joseph's POV and I loved knowing his thoughts as he began his duty on the Wall.  I loved learning the rules and rationale, seeing how life on the Wall was.  Mr. Lanchester described the extreme cold in such detail that I kept wanting to grab a blanket whilst reading... though I didn't really need one.   And how I LOVED reading about that cold, especially every time I was in the middle of a dreaded hot flash!  

However, some things didn't make much sense.  I didn't understand why punishment for an Other getting over the Wall was banishment.  Why not just extend one's time as Defender?  We are told that there are a shortage of people to defend the wall, thus the required 2 year stint of all citizens... except those who agree to breed because then they will be creating future Defenders.  So, if you agree to have a bunch of heterosexual sex and pop out a baby or two, then you can get off the Wall.  (You would think ALL the young people who are straight or even bi would sign up for that, but no.  They are angry at their own parents for bringing them into this ruined world and do not want to do that to another human being).  The powers that be are worried about there not being enough people to defend the wall, so why don't they just allow some people (Others) to become citizens??  And why use banishment as a punishment?  That makes no sense, but since it's a novel, it doesn't really have to -- though it's better when it does!

The first two-thirds of this book -- 5 stars.  Then we get to the final third and it just petered out.  I felt like the author got bored writing the book and looked for a quick way to end it.  As such, I found the ending unsatisfactory.  Perhaps that's just me though and others (ha, ha!) will like the ending.  It's a good story for the most part, and one to make us think about who "Others" really are.  Instead of hating and fearing those we perceive as different, we should instead recognise our common humanity and feel compassion for those seeking refuge or a better life. 
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
480 reviews586 followers
February 17, 2019
We're not short on dystopian stories these days. One would think that readers might like to escape the daily news cycle of doom and gloom, but our appetite for apocalyptic thrillers shows no signs of abating. The Wall is one of the more considered and thoughtful offerings. If you're a fan of the kind of speculative fiction that Margaret Atwood does so well, you might want to check it out.

The story is set sometime in the near future. A major climate event has occurred, causing sea levels to rise. There are no beaches left in the world. Many countries have built a wall around their entire coastline, to stop the ocean from encroaching, but also to prevent migrants (or Others as they are called) from entering. In Britain, it is mandatory for young people to carry out national service, protecting the border. The draftees who serve on the Wall are known as Defenders, trained to kill Others who attempt to enter the country via sea. Kavanagh is one such Defender and he is our narrator.

Understandably, there is a sense of resentment among Kavanagh and his peers. They have never experienced a world that wasn't ravaged by climate change. But their parents have, and it "broke on their watch." Home on leave between Wall shifts, Kavanagh can't even look his folks in the eye: "... the Change was not a single solitary event. We speak of it in that manner because here we experienced one particular shift, of sea level and weather, over a period of years it is true, but it felt then and when we look back on it today still feels like an incident that happened, a defined moment in time with a before and an after. There was our parents’ world, and now there is our world."

It's not hard to read between the lines and uncover the allegorical meanings at play. John Lanchester pores over the same news headlines as the rest of us. This story is an amalgamation of our present fears: Brexit, Trump's Mexican wall, the rise of anti-immigration sentiment, irreversible climate change. He dares to imagine the worst possible scenario and what makes this novel so terrifying is that it's all so plausible. We are sleepwalking our way into a monumental environmental catastrophe, but world leaders remain focused on growing their economies.

The Wall is a wake-up call, but it's also a riveting and suspenseful read. Lanchester wraps an exciting story around our current anxieties. It's written in a very direct style and I imagine many will devour it in a single sitting. It may not be the most hopeful or heartwarming tale, but it packs a mighty punch.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
July 30, 2019
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2019

My fifth book from this year's Booker longlist, this is the first which I think is lucky to be there. I don't read much dystopian fiction but I have already read two much more imaginative ones this year, the best of which was Zed. Neither is this Lanchester's best work - he has never improved on his debut The Debt to Pleasure, though Fragrant Harbour came close.

We meet the narrator Joseph Kavanagh (as others have pointed out this must be a nod to Kafka's Josef K) on the first day of his compulsory two years service as a Defender. We learn that Britain is surrounded by a high wall, which serves both to keep outsiders (Others) out, but also because the sea has risen due to global warming. The book is in three sections, the first describing life on The Wall and the second how Kavanagh's section is successfully attacked, largely thanks to their being betrayed from inside.

The third part takes the story in an unexpected direction, as

I found the whole premise lacked plausibility, for example Lanchester does not explain how river water crosses the wall, how it can withstand the enormous water pressure, what happens to the bigger offshore islands or why despite global warming the wall is so cold most of the time. The language is monotonously plain, and much of the book reads like a rather dull adventure story with an implausible romantic subplot. I suspect it was written with an eye to cinematic adaptation.

I decided the third star was just about deserved by the exploration of the moral ambiguity of the situation and because like all dystopias many of its premises are extensions of real world concerns, but it could have been so much better.
Profile Image for Emily B.
424 reviews417 followers
April 26, 2021
I liked the concept of this book however the wall did seem very very familiar however overall I enjoyed reading and as a dystopia I found it entertaining.

I have to say I did prefer the first half to the second and wasn’t too keen on the ending. I’m not sure why it stopped there exactly.

‘A bit like human life in general, you could say, the terrible regularity with which nothing happens, the genuine terror when something does’
November 19, 2019

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THE WALL by John Lanchester falls into a genre that I call "unapologetic lad-lit." It's written for men, and doesn't really make any secret about it; the manly-man protagonist plows his way through the story with his testosterone-charged mediocrity, and all of the women who should be out of his league but aren't end up falling for his oh so average charms. There's also war, too, of course. I definitely got a STARSHIP TROOPERS vibe from this book, with a bit of Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD. It's war with the meandering pace of McCarthy (although without McCarthy's aversion to punctuation, thank God), and more about the ops elements than high-octane battle scenes drenched in derring-do and copious amounts of alien blood.

It was, in a word, boring.

I think THE WALL could have been a good book. My impression of THE WALL is that it is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the sea levels have risen dangerously and there might be a Nuclear winter (wasn't sure why it was so cold where the hero was if it was hot enough to met the seas; this aspect of the book wasn't explained super well). Resources are scarce, so this knock-off group of Black Watch soldiers man the wall and keep out The Others.

It seems easy enough, but it isn't. Because people are desperate, and when people are desperate they do ugly things. Joseph Kavanagh (poor choice of last name, imo), is the newest recruit to the Wall. He bonds with his team and learns the way things run and most importantly, he learns how to attack and defend against the Others who want to get over the wall and kill them all. But then he learns that, as with any government, not everything you think know about the current situation is truth.

THE WALL's biggest weakness is that it doesn't feel like a fully developed story. Is it political commentary against the current president of the U.S. and his dreams of a border wall? Is it a treatise on the importance of stopping global warming and preventing water and resource wars? Is it just supposed to be a dystopian fiction work of militaristic lad-lit, to be consumed and enjoyed and hopefully turned into a movie one day with actors who used to be in B-movie action films? This was not clear, and that lack of clarity really sank the book for me and caused the storyline to suffer.

Overall, this wasn't really for me. I read a lot of science-fiction, old and new, and this was not something that stood out to me in any way. It actually reminded me a lot of a book I read called SOFT APOCALYPSE, which had lofty ideas but didn't know how to execute them.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

2 stars
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,024 reviews48.4k followers
March 6, 2019
John Lanchester’s new novel, “The Wall,” sounds like the best-timed book of the year. It arrives smack dab in the heat of a constitutional crisis over President Trump’s determination to build a barrier along our southern border — Congress be damned.

Lanchester, who lives in London, is well-equipped to write about this confrontation tearing up America. Not only is he one of the best financial journalists, he’s also a novelist with a keen eye for how politics and money corral ordinary people’s lives.

But Lanchester doesn’t mention Trump or his wall in “The Wall.” He doesn’t mention the United States or Britain, where Brexit has arisen from a similar hostility toward immigrants. Instead, he abandons the sharp realism of his previous novels, such as “Capital,” and gives us a fable about a wall.

This is not so much a departure from Trump’s rhetoric as an attempt to make it concrete. After all, the president has been spinning fables about his “beautiful wall” for years. Lanchester merely imagines such a structure completed on a colossal scale, and then he speculates about the paranoid society that would. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,746 reviews1,197 followers
October 30, 2019
I read this book due to its long listing for the 2019 Booker Prize, although I have in fact read all four of the author’ should previous novels and his most famous work of non-fiction. I loved his Whitbread (now Costa) First `novel prize winning “The Debt to Pleasure” but struggled to engage with much of his writing since and had decided to skip this book (unless prize nominated) based on that and on the early reviews I had read of the book.

So now it had been prize nominated, here goes ..

Climate change is clearly a subject in which the author is interested. As far back as 2007 he wrote an article for the London Review of Books reviewing the two most famous reports at the time on the topic (the IPCC report and the stern review), and books by two of the then most provocative books on the topic (George Monbiot and James Lovelock, the IPCC report). In the article he discussed the risk of catastrophic climate change including the reversal of the Gulf Stream.

And it is catastrophic climate change that forms the backdrop for this near future (but also allegorical) dystopian novel. A one off tipping-point event - known as The Change (and probably, although not stated, related to the reversal of the Gulf Stream) has led to sea levels rising and created millions of desperate refugees.

The idea of the refugee/migrant problem reaching huge proportions is one that underlay the Booker longlisted Exit West, but there the books diverge. Exit West posited a scenario in which any barriers that the Western World erected to migration were completely undermined by the existence of doors allowing effectively unlimited migration and examined, in an eventually utopian way, how Western society might ultimately develop in that scenario.

In this book the opposite occurs - the resistance of Western society to immigration takes a physical and tangible form, via the erection of walls. Britain (curiously not named although both Scotland and London are and the book is scattered with references which make it clear the island is Britain) erects a giant wall (officially the National Coastal Defence Structure but colloquially known as The Wall) around its entire coastline.

The Wall is in turn manned, via compulsory two year conscription, by Defenders - backed up by a repurposed coastguard and by air patrols. The latter try to intercept and kill migrants (known as the Others) at sea but occasionally the reach the wall engaging in hand to hand combat with The Defenders. Any who do make it through are quickly captured (mainly due to their lack of the biometric implants necessary for functioning in society) and given the choice of euthanasia, being returned to the sea or becoming Help (state supervised servants for The Elite and those of the normal populace who can afford to give them board and lodgings). For any of Other that breaches the wall, a Defender (judged to be most culpable for the breach) is expelled to sea.

It is clear at this point that a key inspiration for the book is George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, about which the author has written at length.


Although the ultimate inspirations for the novel were:

- an article the author read about climate departure (see for example https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.tr...)

- a recurring dream of a man standing guard on a wall - which he eventually interpreted as taking place in a post climate change catastrophe world

The book is narrated in the first person by Joseph Kavanagh - Joseph K in a clear Kafka link with the Celtic surname a deliberate nod to the fact that once in Britain the Anglo-Saxons were the invaders who then called the displaced Celts the Welsh meaning “foreigners”.

The narration begins on the day he starts his duty as a Defender. Joseph’s reflections during his isolated and often boring 12 hour shifts on The Wall giving Lanchester every excuse needed to bring in exposition on both the Wall and the functioning of British society.

Some of this is clever. Lanchester does an excellent job of bringing out the generational divide caused by The Change (incomprehension and resentment by the youngsters and a refusal to take any advice from elders who not only allowed the world to be ruined, but who can or relate to the most formative experience of their lives - being a Defender; mass guilt on behalf of their parents’ generation).

Similarly he examines a generational rejection of bringing children into the world which has lead to a special status given to Breeders who agree to try for children (thus maintain population levels and more to the point future supplies of Defenders).

What lets this part down is the rather too common lack of consistency and coherence in the world view created and even in the functioning of The Defenders in manning the wall - but I was able to forgive this in a book which functions not just as dystopian fiction but also very much as fable or allegory.

The idea of a Wall to keep out migrants clearly has parallels with Donald Trump; and Britain turning in on itself clearly has Brexit parallels. One can of course imagine that the publishers would want to play up these links and they must have influenced the title. The origins of the book although, in fact, lie in a repeated dream the author had of a man watching at a wall - one he came to understand as being set in a post climate change world. And the ideas of barriers to migration and a divide between those on one side and those desperate to join them, owes more to the author’s childhood in Hong Kong.

However there is no doubting the author has produced an extremely prescient novel and one can understand the Booker judges long listing this book given their concentration on topicality.

What he has not produced is a beautifully written one - instead it is both basic and prosaic in writing quality (another contrast to Exit West). This does not make for a terribly literary reading experience and seems out of keeping with what I might expect from a Booker nominee - but does increase its accessibility and again this may have appealed to the judges.

Further I believe that the style (which reads much like books aimed at teenagers) is both deliberate and appropriate.

This is not the author’s universal writing style.

“A Debt to Pleasure” (from my review) is ”Written in image filled language with erudite classical references, musings, snobbery and opinionated writing on themes in world cuisine ... we also gradually understand Tarquin’s character – part deluded as to his own inadequacies and the reactions of others to him, part a calculating psychopath ..... almost every page has a striking image, opinion or turn of language”. Note the huge contrast in style but the huge contrast in the world and characters being portrayed. And note the internal correspondence in each case.

A number of Booker nominated books have been criticised by readers for a writing style which is beautiful but out of keeping with the characters in the book own lack of education, learning, age or society. My particular bugbear was Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” but I recall similar points being made against Exit West.

Here I think Lanchester is reflecting the character and society in which he is writing. And ultimately I think this is a literary reflection that if a society becomes grimly obsessed with selfishness, with excluding others and holding on to what they have - then along with goodness and compassion; beauty, humour, language and imagination all are lost also.

Where however I stopped being a Defender of the book and found myself aligned with The Others who have criticised it was the final third or so of the book.

The idea of Lanchester abandoning his examination of the society behind the wall would I think have been fine (in fact strongly justified) had he provided some (or any) insight into life on the other side of the Wall; instead we get a rather clumsily section which feels like a series of hastily assembled film vignettes - marooning at sea, survival camp, pirate attack, post-catastrophe isolation. In the book being out to sea is a punishment and so it seemed for this reader.

I was also disappointed to hear the US version had removed some of the very obvious British references - presumably in an attempt to make links to Trump’s Mexican Wall - while leaving many behind in a rather inconsistent mix-up.

Finally I re-read this book as a nighttime story to my 11 year old daughter. Her view was that it was an interesting book with a very good initial idea (the wall and the events that lead to it) but that it stopped being good when moving from The Wall (early on she asked "is there any point to this section") and that it was also a fairly simple read.

2.5 stars rounded up.

Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,301 reviews119 followers
September 5, 2019
Booker Prize Longlist 2019. Lanchester’s dystopian novel explores a world where sea levels have risen dramatically after ‘the Change’, land is scarce and in need of protection from ‘the Others’. Thus, the country (similar to the U.K.) has erected ‘the Wall’ and manned it with ‘Defenders’ to keep out water and unwelcome immigrants—a literal Brexit.

Above all, The Wall is an atmospheric novel. We meet the narrator, Joseph Kavanagh, as he starts his new job as a Defender on the Wall. It is COLD! The wall is made of gray cement, devoid of any warmth. There is not warmth to be found anywhere—not in the weather, not in the rules governing the Defenders, nor in personal relationships. Even Lanchester’s characters seem to be devoid of heat.

Lanchester does an excellent job of revealing the cruelties inherent in this ‘cold’ world and its philosophical implications. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
August 2, 2019
This is a dystopian novel about climate change, nationalism, and immigration, as much as it is about human nature and basic survival. The book started out slowly with the narrator basically giving a lengthy dissertation about the wall and how the rising sea levels caused the disruption of society. This is not the most interesting way to do world-building. The book did pick up about halfway through when there was finally some action in the story. Despite the characters constant fight for survival, however, the book just didn’t seem to move quickly. 2.5⭐️
Profile Image for Neale .
286 reviews126 followers
August 13, 2019

The first thing we learn about the wall is that it is cold. Not just your everyday run of the mill cold. The cold that makes you wish you were dead, or at least somewhere else. The second thing we find out is that when you’re sent to the wall for your tour, it will last two years. These two points never change, but the men who you will be on tour with do. The obvious questions spring to mind, why was the wall built, what has happened to the rest of the world. The world in which Lanchester has placed this narrative is clouded with ambiguity. The reader continually hears about “the change” and “the others”. Some of the narrative can be pieced together. There has been a change, seemingly to the climate and Britain has been walled off from the rest of the world. This wall must be defended twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week from “the others”. This is the definition used to describe everybody on the other side of the wall. The penalty for anybody making it over the wall is horrific and simple. For every person who makes it over the wall one defender is put to sea, pretty much a slow death sentence. This almost reminded me of decimation in the Roman Legions.

Lanchester seems to be having a go at multiple targets. Climate change, refugees, Brexit, even classism. We are never told just how far into the future this novel is set, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see a similar future to this one unfolding. Granted it may be quite a way down the track but a possibility, perhaps. Is this book meant as a portent, a warning of what may come to pass, a future whose path we may have already started irrevocably down?

Lanchester does a wonderful job of letting the reader experience the wall through the eyes of the protagonist Kavanagh. So many feelings are experienced, both mental and physical, by Kavanagh when he first takes his place on the wall. Intense cold, fear, anxiety and ultimately boredom. The reader almost feels that he has been condemned to two years on the wall along with Kavanagh.

Even though I enjoyed this book, it never really rose to the heights that I thought it would. It’s an entertaining novel and I particularly enjoyed the ending. Perhaps it may have more of an impact for British readers. However, I think the issues that Lanchester is targeting unfortunately exist in many places. For me, a good book, but far from essential reading. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Trudie.
520 reviews553 followers
August 17, 2019
* 3.5 *

This reading experience ended up being ok despite all indicators to the contrary.
Look, I don't think this is a literary-prize winning effort, but I enjoyed it. As a dystopia it takes a fairly minimalist approach to world-building : take a big wall, add water, baby politicians and some "Others" and that is your backstory. Generally, it is lacklustre as far as dystopias are concerned. However, I approached this as a type of team-bonding novel; a low-key version of Platoon set in chilly England with tea and biscuits, add in some Waterworld carry on and the entire thing starts to look passable.

I doubt I will recall much of this novel in a few months, but the plainness of the writing style was welcome at the time and seemed to work with the story: the unemotional retelling of a "Defender". It is tempting to view this as a book that has something more profound to say about the way the world is heading, especially with the word "Wall" in the title, however this story lacks both the depth and nuance to really be considered more than a placidly rollicking read.
Profile Image for Dianne.
556 reviews890 followers
August 23, 2019
This book is long-listed for the 2019 Booker Prize, so that made it a must read for me. I try to read all the Booker long-list novels every year. Reviewers have not been kind to this one, so I was not expecting to like it - but I did! Do I think it’s Booker-worthy? No. It was (for me) an interesting but lightweight dystopian look at a possible future where walls abound to keep immigrants (called “Others” here) out and where climate change (called “The Change”) has flooded the landscape.

The problem with this book is it is very paltry on character development and world-building, and is missing that deep, impactful wallop that makes you think hard about the message the author is trying to send. In a boxing match of Booker candidates, this would definitely be a featherweight.

“Booker-worthiness” aside, I found it entertaining and suspenseful. The novel has a very spare, dreamy and remote feel to it, a certain rhythm that worked for me. The book is divided into three sections - The Wall, The Others and The Sea. The narrator is a young man who is serving his mandatory two year assignment on The Wall. His job is to prevent The Others from breaching The Wall that protects his island home. If The Others successfully breach The Wall and escape onto the island, any defenders who were on The Wall at the time are punished by being put out to sea in a boat. Banishment. You are now......The Other.

So....yes, I enjoyed it! 🤷🏼‍♀️ If you can shake off the weighty expectations of a Booker-nominated novel, you may enjoy it, too.
Profile Image for Karen Whittaker.
59 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2019
John Lanchester is an established author with a big fan base and so when I saw that the Telegraph Book Club had chosen this book as its book of the month for February I felt I could not go far wrong. All the reviews I read beforehand indicated that this book was the Orwell "1984" of its time.

So definitely not the case in my opinion.

This book has at one point in the early stages a long list of words repeated over and over again - particularly the word "concrete". How boring is a list of words you might say? Yes. It is. Very boring. As is the book.

There is really no plot. Nothing really happens. Page after page of boring dialogue about what it is like to guard a concrete wall for hours on end. None of the characters have any substance at all, there is no depth to their feelings or thoughts (maybe that's what the author feels we will all be like in the future), no action, nothing. There is no action. I longed to turn the page and find a mad manic plot twist, a strange course of action to attract my attention. Sorry. That doesn't happen.

I might have enjoyed the book more if the language had been evocative or interesting or visually descriptive. But no. Lots of boring simple sentences, with boring simple words.

I can only think that this novel will appeal to those doom mongers among us - climate change, illegal immigrants coming across the channel to take our livelihoods, low birth rates, a lack of joy in any recreational pursuit, a relentless toil to fund a capitalist economy.

Once again, not a book I would want to read again. I certainly wouldn't recommend it (unless you fall in the category of individual described in the paragraph above!) and sadly, this does not make me want to read any of his other novels.

This review also appears on my blog page - https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blo...
Profile Image for Anita Pomerantz.
637 reviews96 followers
August 10, 2019
If I don't over intellectualize to much, I have to say I quite enjoyed reading this dystopian survival story.  But, other than the fact it was topical (climate change, walls/border control, younger generation blaming the elder for the world's woes), I am not really sure how this gets nominated for such a prominent literary prize.

But, I enjoyed the narrative voice of a young man serving his mandatory military service and I thought a lot of his emotions were artfully, if not beautifully, described.  The second half morphs a bit from a description of a dystopian world to more of a gripping survival adventure tale . . .and that generated more suspense for me.  Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit like the author got sick of his own tale and wasn't quite sure how to deal with it.  Soooo many unanswered questions throughout meant I had to ding the plot more than I really wanted to.  Basically, I liked the storytelling, but not sure even the best edit would really make this a Booker prize winner . . .despite the fact I really enjoyed reading it.
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
525 reviews97 followers
March 21, 2019
June 16, 2015: ... Donald Trump announces his campaign for the presidency and first mentions his idea to build a southern border wall.

“I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ―and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words

John Lanchester chose a great title for his latest novel. It’s unambiguous, it has immediate resonation in this divided world, and Mr Trump continues to provide comment and tweets on the most contentious of all his election pledges.

Lanchester’s The Wall does feature a wall as a physical barrier. The sense of fear, and of hostility is ever present.
(While the proposed Mexican border wall is the one that generates most publicity, Lancaster made a very interesting point about the proliferation of other walls- see notes from his talk).

The Wall is very much an environmental book too, and the consequences of global warming (another Trump ignorance) is more subtlety presented in a world set not too far in the future (definitive dates, and locations are not spelled out).

The writing style is deliberately stripped down, and stark. You wouldn’t know this was the same author who wrote Capital . Most of the characters are exhausted and focus on basic survival.

There is one character who has strayed into the narrative from Lanchester’s social and political commentaries:

“ a member of the elite who was clever at being popular with ordinary people” (137)

***I was in the audience for a discussion with John Lanchester at the Brighton Waterstones on 21st Feb 2019.
Lanchester is an engaging interviewee.

1. Introducing The Wall: The book revolves around ‘catastrophic’ climate change. If you google ‘4 degrees centigrade increase in temperature’, be prepared to be shocked by the cataclysmic effects on major urban concentrations that would follow.
Lanchester thought about writing into the novel what the consequences would be on the UK If the Gulf Stream was to change course.
Gaia principle proposes that the living conditions on the planet are not just determined by Homo sapiens The hypothesis formulated by the chemist James Lovelock is that Earth gets rid of us.

2. Golden age of walls going up. Tim Marshall. Divided - Why We’re Living In An Age Of Walls

Western Sahara
Birch Wall, N. Australia
Lots of high tech walls under construction
The Wall: a 2,000 mile border journey. A mesmerising YouTube study- watch it!!

3. Concept of National Service.Actually quite recent, parents generation. Still in Europe- Switzerland.
(Conscription is an underlying premises in the book)

4. Question of “agency”. Collective action. No personal lever to pull. Battery driven cars, for example, are OK, but not enough in isolation. Nothing connected on a global scale
(What can be done to prevent climate change)

5. On the meaning of the book- and whether it is upbeat or downbeat: Too much explanation (by the author) is a trap, that can kill fiction. JL wrote a separate non fiction book (at time of Capital ) to quarantine the facts he had researched.

6. Hong Kong (where JL grew up) and Boat People- 2.5 million successfully resettled. It can/ should be done.
(discussion of the forced migration of people’s, especially in the Mediterranean, fleeing the conflict in Syria)

7. Book’s end- variety of responses-JL wanted that. Telling people what to think- EM Forster- a moral report card- is not JL’s aim.

8. Seriousness of the book. Humour let’s you pull back... hence there is none.

The Wall is a thoroughly contemporary book. It’s dystopian in the most alarming of ways, because it’s so imaginable.
I enjoyed this thought provoking book very much indeed.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
539 reviews7,234 followers
September 19, 2019
My first Lanchester and probably not the best place to start. In The Wall a wall has been built around the UK after an event called The Change and our protagonist, Kavanagh, has just began his service as a guard on the Wall. Marketed as a dystopia, I think it's more befitting to call it speculative.

Yet Lanchester doesn't really have anything to say with this novel. The whole thing feels like something Channel 4 would produce as a limited series supported by stark in-yer-face billboards and cryptic television ads. Whilst the novel has some exciting moments, you're left wondering exactly what Lanchester's point was.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,351 reviews516 followers
July 26, 2019
It's cold on the Wall. That's the first thing everybody tells you, and the first thing you notice when you're sent there, and it's the thing you think about all the time you're on it, and it's the thing you remember when you're not there anymore. It's cold on the Wall.

The Wall is set in a cli-fi dystopia that extends modern realities to an admittedly believable future – global warming has raised the ocean levels and scorched the lands of developing countries, desperate refugees risk their lives to reach safety, heartless nationalists erect a wall to protect what they have from the greedy hands of others – and while many details of the plot are interesting and compelling, it's not very literary; even “the wall” is just “a wall”, not a metaphor in sight. (Exit West covers the exact same themes but with literary devices that engage the mind and sympathies far better than this narrative hung stiffly on the seven point story structure template.) John Lanchester has certainly captured something of the current political climate, but he hasn't really made art out of it.

Combat is like that, an undanceable rhythm: Slow, slow, slower, sudden pandemonium.

And so goes the story: slow, slow, slower, sudden pandemonium. In the beginning we are introduced to Joseph Kavanagh, a young man set to begin his mandatory two year stint as a Defender on the Wall (a ten thousand kilometre-long concrete barrier encircling the whole of Great Britain); one of three hundred thousand young people acting as Defenders at any given time. At some point in the recent past the Change occurred (whatever raised the sea levels and obliterated beaches worldwide), and having grown up in this reality, Kavanagh and his generation are resentful of their parents; those who not only allowed the world to collapse on their watch, but who are now too old to take their own turn standing guard up on the cold, cold wall. Rigorous armed defense is imperative because the Others might attack at any time: coming by sea, these homicidal would-be refugees will stop at nothing to get over the Wall, and if they do succeed, they are doomed to be put into service as the Help (little better than slaves) while those Defenders deemed responsible for the breach are fated to be put out to sea; to become “Others” themselves. Plenty of slow, but interesting, world-building, and then: sudden pandemonium. (The seven point story structure is used because it works.)

Betrayal was like tasting a liquid, the bitterest thing you've ever put in your mouth, and holding the taste just long enough to fully understand how repulsive it is, and then forcing yourself to drain the cup to its dregs.

I don't want to give away anything important, so I'll put my specific thoughts behind spoiler tags. I'm not unhappy that The Wall's Man Booker nomination led me to read it, but its inclusion on that list certainly led me to expect more from it.
Profile Image for Sadie.
750 reviews163 followers
May 25, 2020
ETA: [Dieses Buch haben wir auch im Papierstau Podcast besprochen (Folge 84: #TeamGreta)] /ETA

>>>Nominiert für den Booker-Preis 2019 (Longlist)<<<

Das war ein sehr flottes, sehr unterhaltsames Leseabenteuer. Die Grundstory ist schnell erzählt und könnte sich, so oder so ähnlich, in ein paar Jahren tatsächlich abspielen: Die Meeresspiegel sind gestiegen und haben u.a. für Land- und Ressourcenknappheit sowie klimabedingte große Wanderbewegungen gesorgt. Großbritannien schottet sich gegen ungebetene Neuankömmlinge durch eine das Land komplett umschließende, wuchtige Mauer ab (Strände gibt es ja nicht mehr). Als quasi Wehrpflicht dieser neuen Gesellschaftsordnung muss jeder junge Mensch zwei Jahre Verteidigungsdienst auf der Mauer ableisten. Der Dienst ist hart und nicht ohne Konsequenzen: Wer nicht verhindern kann, dass Flüchtlinge über die Mauer ins Land eindringen, wird selbst auf dem Meer ausgesetzt. Die Lesenden begleiten Kavanagh, einen jungen Rekruten, bei seinem Dienstantritt und neuem Leben auf der Mauer.

Das sind mir die liebsten Dystopien: Die, die so dicht an der Realität kratzen, dass der Grusel sich sehr echt anfühlt. Keine Zombies, keine fremden Galaxien, keine außerirdischen Mächte, sondern menschliche, quasi "hausgemachte" Probleme einer Welt, die schon heute nicht fern scheint und in Zeiten klimatischer Veränderungen, Abschottung und Fluchtbewegungen alles andere als fernab jedweder Vorstellungskraft liegt (und den Brexit habe ich noch nicht mal erwähnt!)

Sprachlich ist das Buch keine große Herausforderung, ganz im Gegenteil, einige Passagen lesen sich wie Aufsätze à la "Mein schönstes Ferienerlebnis": Abläufe werden relativ nüchtern und einfach beschrieben. Aber das hat Methode, denn so wir bleiben die ganze Zeit ganz dicht beim Hauptcharakter, der die Geschichte als Ich-Erzähler zum Besten gibt (andere Einblicke werden ansatzweise durch sein Zusammentreffen mit anderen Menschen wiedergegeben). Lanchester hätte hier z.B. durch einen auktorialen Erzähler einen einfacheren, wenn nicht gefälligeren Weg wählen und so auch tiefere Einblicke vom Rest der Gesellschaft bieten können. Auch das wäre interessant, aber vielleicht weniger eindringlich gewesen - stattdessen bleiben wir bei Kavanagh. Das ist nicht immer schön oder angenehm, aber Lanchester zieht das gnadenlos und wirklich konsequent durch - eine durchaus eigenwillige, wenn nicht mutige Entscheidung.

Der Roman hat, neben den bereits erwähnten tagesaktuellen Querverweisen, vor allem zwei große Spaltungen zum Thema. Zum einen das "Wir" (die Menschen hinter der Mauer) gegen die "Anderen". Die Menschen hinter der Mauer haben Eigenschaften: Sie sind z.B. Verteidiger, Eliten oder Fortpflanzler (komischer Begriff, ja, aber wie könnte man "breeder" geschlechtsübergreifend passender übersetzen?). Die "Anderen" sind immer nur die "Anderen", egal, woher sie kommen, was sie machen, wer sie sind, sie sind die namenlose, bedrohliche Masse, gegen die hier nicht nur gehetzt werden kann, sondern die zum Abschuss freigegeben ist.

Die zweite Spaltung findet hinter der Mauer statt, und zwar zwischen den Generationen: Die "junge" Generation, hier wieder v.a. verbildlicht durch Kavanagh, hat keinerlei Respekt vor oder tiefe Gefühle für die Elterngeneration, schließlich hat diese durch ihr Verhalten die Situation überhaupt erst herbei geführt (hier hat sich Lanchester in gewisser Weise fast schon prophetisch der #FridaysforFuture-Demos genähert, zumindest was den Konflikt zwischen den Generationen - besorgte Jugendliche hier, zu wenig engagierte Erwachsene [Politiker] dort - angeht). Wenn man das unterwürfige, nach Vergebung strebende Verhalten von Kavanaghs Eltern als Maßstab nimmt, scheint diese Spaltung zumindest teilweise hausgemacht zu sein. Dennoch ist es natürlich von heuchlerischer Doppelmoral tief durchtränkt, wenn Kavanagh in geradezu unerträglicher Arroganz und Selbstbeweihräucherung durch Freisprechung ("WIR können da ja nichts für...") seine Eltern für die Folgen des Klimawandels verachtet, selbst aber, zumindest am Anfang, keinerlei moralische Bedenken oder Skrupel gegenüber "seinem" System zeigt, in dem Ausbeutung, Mord und Versklavung anderer als vertretbar gelten und nicht hinterfragt werden ("Muss halt so sein"). Zum Glück kommt der Roman nach einer gründlichen Darstellung des Lebens auf der Mauer richtig gut in Gang und wird durch verschiedene Ereignisse und wachsende Charaktere sehr spannend und bewegend - und auch (noch) grausam(er).

Ich glaube, es ist zu erkennen, dass mich dieser Roman sehr zum Nachdenken und drüber-sprechen-wollen angeregt und mir allein schon deshalb sehr gut gefallen hat.
Profile Image for David.
590 reviews124 followers
July 27, 2019
Dystopia Lite, heavy on predictability and with more than a dash of YA seasoning, served up with extra helpings of cold (types 1 and 2).

I'm afraid the best I can do is damn this one with faint praise. It's quick. It's not terribly complicated. The story itself lies closer to potential reality than many Bleak Future fables and is therefore disturbing at times. If forced to choose between The Wall and Snap, however, Sophie would probably give them both up.

A bona fide cranky start to the 2019 Booker season. (Believe me: That pun is better than this book)

2.5 stars
Profile Image for Doug.
1,937 reviews670 followers
July 30, 2019
3.5, rounded down.

Had to mull this one, since I didn't want its Booker longlist nomination to cloud my judgement of the book itself, either way. I don't think it is quite the anomaly others have decried - to me it firmly belongs to the same category of 'Adventure Tales for Grown-up Boys' as such previously pegged Booker tomes as The North Water and The Narrow Road to the Deep North; as well as such dystopian parables as The Water Cure and Exit West. But then, the topic/genre itself wouldn't have impelled me to pick it up without that nomination, so...

The first section, with its heavy dose of exposition was not promising, since it was not only dull, but a bit obtuse - it often raised more questions than it answered, and seemed to conflict frequently with previous revelations about the 'Change'. But when the second section began, with the more obviously cinematic scenes of mayhem, I'll admit I was more enthused and it became quite the page turner. Yes, the characters are a bit wooden and one-dimensional (especially the women - Hija remained a cipher throughout). Yes, the prose is often coarse and prosaic, but that befits the green, uneducated young narrator. But I will sheepishly admit I enjoyed this more than some other more lyrical but plot deficient Booker noms I've recently trudged through, which might seem loftier candidates. And the prescient climate change/political underpinnings certainly bump it up half a notch or so.

So bottom line, I don't begrudge it on the longlist, and wouldn't vehemently object should the unlikely occur and it makes the shortlist (as I still have 7 nominations to get through and I can see several of those not appealing much to my tastes) ... but it also isn't really a credible contender for the win.
Profile Image for Kate.
515 reviews29 followers
January 30, 2019
When non-genre authors write genre fiction (in this case cli-fi, sci-fi or future history genre), they never seen willing to flesh out the details, leaving the reader having to make it up in their head.

I wanted to know more about the political situation, I wanted to know more about the climate change impacts on the world of The Wall. I wanted to know more about The Captain's experience as an Other, and to know more about the people in Britain who wanted Others to be treated better.

Instead, all I got was the story of two teenagers put in an awful personal situation.

This book reminded me so much of Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" which also kept the reader in the dark about the political situations that led to the horror of the novel.

So what I want to know is: is this a failure of imagination by the author, or is it that they can't bring themselves to be tarnished with the genre brush, so they leave details as vague as possible.

I have to say I was disappointed as the set up was brilliant, but the denouement was incredibly disappointing and left me as the reader hanging in mid-air much in the way Hifa and Kavanaugh were at the end of the book.
Profile Image for Nicky.
176 reviews22 followers
August 20, 2019
2.5* stars rounded up. A quick, easy read but more than a tad YA-ish for the Booker long-list.
Profile Image for Katie Long.
267 reviews56 followers
August 2, 2019
If you think, after reading the blurb, that you have the gist of this novel and know where it's going, you definitely do. Everything about it, setting, plot, characterizations, even the message the author seems to be putting across is all just too simple. There is no complexity in any of it to dig into. And yet, the plot points are still over explained. To the point that even the most crucial events, that should be exciting, lose all impact. I think I'm starting to hear a "how did this make the Booker long list?" echo.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
136 reviews37 followers
November 15, 2018
This is a slender book and so should have been a quick read but I found myself slowing right down in order to read every single word. Not a lot happens and by the end everything, and nothing, has changed. It's really beautiful and it's made me think a lot about asylum seekers and what else I, personally, can do today to help slow climate change.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,170 followers
July 28, 2019
It seems idiotic now and it seemed idiotic then, but I had no idea what else to say.

says our narrator Kavanagh early on, which is perhaps not far of my opinion of John Lanchester’s financial journalism, so I was interested if his novels were any better.  

The Wall feels like a book written to hit as many topical buttons as possible within a very simple story.  

The concept combines the (very important) inter-generational warnings of an imminent climate tipping point from the movement begun by Greta Thunberg, the cheap accusations of treachery associated with Brexit, Donald Trump’s Build The Wall and Lanchester’s own railing, dating back to the financial crisis, against the “elite” (as an aside, anyone using that word is on the side of populists on either extreme of the political spectrum), although the book remains resolutely and incogrously heteronormative. It even features a blond baby politician, although the one here is less senior that those we now have in charge on both sides of the Atlantic.

When the Booker long list was announced there was an intriguing comment from Gaby Wood, chair of the Booker Foundation, about the judges: “they reached far and wide in their search for the best fiction of the year, calling in (among others) Young Adult novels”.  Intriguing as I couldn’t obviously spot which YA book had ended on the list as a result, but it turns out to be The Wall.

The novel begins:

It’s cold on the Wall. That’s the first thing everybody tells you, and the first thing you notice when you’re sent there, and it’s the thing you think about all the time you’re on it, and it’s the thing you remember when you’re not there any more. It’s cold on the Wall. 

You look for metaphors. It’s cold as slate, as diamond, as the moon. Cold as charity–that’s a good one. But you soon realise that the thing about the cold is that it isn’t a metaphor. It isn’t like anything else. It’s nothing but a physical fact. This kind of cold, anyway. Cold is cold is cold.

Which is a good a way as any of warning the reader that if they are looking for refined or lyrical prose, they’ve chosen the wrong book.  

And it rather continues in that vein.  The prose is simple although the dystopian subject matter (and sex) pushes this into the YA bracket.   And in many respects the Booker judges are to be congratulated for including a novel that is so accessible.  

Although as Neil’s review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) points out, the book, and the judges' choice of it, is rather let down by focusing too much on the experience of the narrator, and indeed the latter third the novel turns into a rather simple and padded out (one scene of climbing down a ladder takes several pages) adventure story.  It lacks any depth at all in the world building as to what exactly has happened and is now happening more widely.

It as if the author himself doesn’t really know how it all hangs together.  Which is rather confirmed at one of the few points where there is detail, describing how the Defenders man their posts at meal times, which contains a personal pet peeve, a maths howler (see below the line).  In that sense the book was oddly reminiscent of The Orchid and The Wasp, written by another author who claimed knowledge of the financial system but was an advocate for populism.

1.5 stars rounded up to 2 as it's a pleasant read and there are worse books on the list (hello Ducky) and I can see why it was included, although personally John Lanchester novels will be joining his journalism on my “don’t bother again” list. 


The posts were numbered in faded white paint at hundred-metre intervals. Each post had a concrete bench, big enough for two people, facing the sea. The bearded man stopped at 8, the woman he’d been sitting next to–maybe they were in a relationship, there was something about their unspeaking ease with each other–took 10. At 12, Hifa, the blob in the balaclava, pointed at me and said, ‘Here,’ and kept walking on towards the next station, 14.
The [meal] routine is that people are allowed to gather together for ten minutes with the two defenders in the nearest posts. The furthest anyone is from their post is two hundred metres; the biggest gap between a group having lunch is six hundred metres. Safe enough to have a gap of that size for ten minutes twice a day. You’d have thought.

So far so good.  If the Defender at post 10 moves to post 12 for lunch and the Defender at post 8 to post 6, then this is the maximum 600 metres.  But...

At three minutes to twelve, I saw Hifa at post 14 put down the grenade launcher and take something out of his or her rucksack, then pick up the weapon again and begin walking towards me. I turned and looked the other way and the red-haired woman from post 10 was heading towards me as well.
‘Wouldn’t you rather have lunch with …?’ I said, and gestured towards the man she’d been sitting next to at breakfast. He was in the next group of three, four hundred metres away. Shoona [from post 10] shrugged.

So the Defenders from posts 10 and 14 go to post 12.   Then the man from post 8 is 400 meters away, which means he is having lunch at his own post, 8 - fine.   Then who are his two lunch companion? - they must be from posts 4 and 6.   But then the Defender from post 4 is 400 metres from their post, which isn’t permitted.  
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