REVIEW

Worldwide water shortage as narrative device in Maja Lunde's The End of the Ocean is terrifying

Maja Lunde's novel is part of an evolving genre sometimes given a very ugly name; cli-fi, meaning works dealing with the effects of climate change, particularly in the near future.

It is a beautifully written book, interweaving two strands, one set in 2017, and one in 2041.

In the current day we meet an elderly woman, Signe, who has protested all her life against environmental degradation and war.

Author Maja Lunde. Picture: Shutterstock

Author Maja Lunde. Picture: Shutterstock

She returns to Norway and goes to see how ice from a glacier is being extracted and exported as a luxury addition for drinks, in yet another dubious, wasteful venture.

In 2041, the results of climate change have made the southern parts of Europe uninhabitable; the south of France is no longer the place of lavender and dreams.

Refugees are moving north, hoping to reach places where potable water is still abundant.

One of these refugees is David, who, along with his daughter, find himself in a camp.

The book was originally written in Norwegian, yet the translation by Diane Oatley is so good that you do not get the feel of a translation at all.

The prose is sparse and, at times poetic.

For example, "tomorrow the skipper will come, start the engine, take the ice, my ice, our ice, transport is south, to other countries, to people who have never seen a glacier, never held snow between their hands, and there it will melt in glasses, in drinks, there it will be destroyed".

Water itself is a major character in the book, as is the boat which appears in both of the novel's timelines.

The boat is called 'Blue', and that was the original title of the work in Norway (Bl).

The End of the Ocean is perhaps not as elegant a title as that simple and evocative Blue, but this is a minor quibble.

It is to Lunde's credit that she manages to deal with such vital issues without preaching, by embedding them in the stories of particular characters who find themselves recast as refugees, escaping fire and drought.

In the strand set in 2041, we see the loss of everything that we associate with a decent standard of living, for without water there can be no security, and civil unrest is inevitable.

It is to Lunde's credit that she manages to deal with such vital issues without preaching, by embedding them in the stories of particular characters who find themselves recast as refugees, escaping fire and drought.

In the earlier timeline, the struggles of Signe to control her boat as she makes her final protest add excitement to the narrative, alongside the character's reflections on her long life.

Her anger towards another character, her ex-partner, who she is travelling to see, is inextricably linked to her concerns about the environment.

There is a twist that brings the two strands together in a truly surprising way towards the end of the novel, and this moment is both very moving and quietly humorous.

It is always a delight to be caught out by a book, to not see something coming, and this is accomplished here without fanfare.

The End of The Ocean will appeal to anyone interested in climate change, or in how people react to extreme disruption in their lives.

Australian readers will recognise many of the issues played out in the text, particularly the misuse of water and the danger of more and more severe fires.

Lunde's book is an eminently readable map of how things may be in the future, if we are unable to plot a different course.

  • The End of the Ocean, by Maja Lunde. Simon & Schuster. $32.99.
  • Penelope Cottier writes poetry as PS Cottier.
This story Worldwide water shortage as narrative device is terrifying first appeared on The Canberra Times.