Header Ads

Breaking News

Book clinic: are there any novels about the climate crisis? | Books


Q: Can you recommend some climate crisis fiction? The nonfiction is too depressing and fiction often helps the heart cope with the world
Peggy Duesenberry, 61, Massachusetts, US

A: Melissa Harrison is a novelist and nature writer whose books include At Hawthorn Time and All Among the Barley. She writes:

There are plenty of dystopian cli-fi novels out there, designed to jolt us out of our current complacency – but it doesn’t sound as though that’s what you need. The American poet and climate activist Kate Schapira believes we must “imagine – and learn about! there are precedents! – the structures that would allow us to live well enough without hurting ourselves and each other, and without helping the people currently hurting us”.

Fiction can help us do that imaginative work.

The brilliant Jenny Offill’s new novel Weather is a great place to start, as it explores what it’s like for ordinary people to move from fear and denial to concrete action. Emily St John Mandel’s haunting Station Eleven (2014) takes us into a near future where disease has led to a breakdown of society, but not a world devoid of hope, for Shakespeare’s plays survive, and art and love remain central to the human experience. Set in an Australia ravaged by climate change, Alexis Wright’s richly strange, genre-bending The Swan Book (2016) is a reminder that other, older cultures may have healthier and more connected relationships to the natural world than the destructive western capitalism currently in the ascendant. Since writing The Dispossessed (1975), Ursula K Le Guin has concluded that an “anarchist utopia” such as the one she describes would eventually destroy itself – but as a way of envisioning a society organised on different principles to ours, it continues to inspire.

Finally, Tove Jansson’s gorgeous, sparklingly simple The Summer Book (1972), in which a little girl and her grandmother spend a season on a Finnish island, has two vital lessons for today: how to live a rich, creative life with very few resources, and how to remain clear-eyed and full of courage in the face of grief and loss.

The work we need to do now is as much moral and imaginative as it is practical. These are novels that can shift our values and priorities, if we allow them to.

Submit your question for bookclinic below or email bookclinic@observer.co.uk