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Doggerland (2019)

av Ben Smith

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygDiskussioner
694304,585 (3.79)Ingen/inga
'The Road meets Waiting for Godot: powerful, unforgettable, unique' Melissa Harrison, author of At Hawthorn Time.Doggerland is a superbly gripping debut novel about loneliness and hope, nature and survival - set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future. 'His father's breath had been loud in the small room. It had smelled smoky, or maybe more like dust. 'I'll get out,' he'd said. 'I'll come back for you, ok?' The boy remembered that; had always remembered it. And, for a time, he'd believed it too.' In the North Sea, far from what remains of the coastline, a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres. The Boy, who is no longer really a boy, and the Old Man, whose age is unguessable, are charged with its maintenance. They carry out their never-ending work as the waves roll, dragging strange shoals of flotsam through the turbine fields. Land is only a memory. So too is the Boy's father, who worked on the turbines before him, and disappeared. The boy has been sent by the Company to take his place, but the question of where he went and why is one for which the Old Man will give no answer. As the Old Man dredges the sea for lost things, the Boy sifts for the truth of his missing father. Until one day, from the limitless water, a plan for escape emerges...Doggerland is a haunting and beautifully compelling story of loneliness and hope, nature and survival.… (mer)
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Visar 4 av 4
Doggerland is the name given in the 1990s to an area of land, now submerged beneath the North Sea, which connected Great Britain to Continental Europe. Doggerland once extended to modern-day Denmark and far north to the Faroe Islands. It was a grassland roamed by mammoth, lion, red deer – and their human hunters – but melting ice turned it into an area of marshes and wetlands before it was finally and definitively claimed by the waves around 8,000 years ago. (Incidentally, Doggerland was recently in the news following exciting archaeological discoveries).

The idea of a submerged world resonates with mythical and poetic associations and, as a result, “Doggerland” lends itself well as the title of Ben Smith’s debut novel. The work, in fact, portrays an unspecified but seemingly not-so-distant future, where global warming and rising sea levels (possibly exacerbated by some other cataclysm) have eroded the coastline and brought to an end civilisation as we know it.

This strange, new world is made stranger still by the purposely constrained stage against which the narrative plays out. Smith focuses on two main characters, maintenance men on an enormous wind farm out in the North Sea, who lead a solitary existence on a decrepit rig amongst the rusting turbines. Although we are given their names, they are generally referred to in the novel as “the Boy” and “the Old Man”. Early on in the book, we are told that of course, the boy was not really a boy, any more than the old man was all that old; but the names are relative, and out of the grey, some kind of distinction was necessary. It’s a significant observation, because much of the novel’s undeniable power derives from a skilful use of a deliberately limited palette. The men’s life is marked by a sense of claustrophobia, the burden of an inescapable fate. The monotony of the routine is only broken by occasional visits of the Supply Boat and its talkative “Pilot”, who is the only link with what remains of the ‘mainland’. The struggle to keep the turbines working with limited resources becomes an image of the losing battle against the rising oceans, at once awesome and terrible in their vastness. The Romantic notion of the Sublime is given an environmentalist twist. One can smell the rust and smell the sea-salt.

Whilst the reader is made to share the ennui of the Boy and his mentor, Smith turns his story into a gripping one by making the most of the scant plot elements. For instance, we are told that the Boy was sent on the rig to replace his father, after the latter’s unsuccessful escape attempt. What exactly happened remains unclear but, together with the Boy, we glean some disturbing details along the way – in this regard, Smith takes a page out of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction, and suggests that society has been taken over by some sort of totalitarian regime of whom the Boy’s father was, presumably, a victim. Part of the pleasure in reading this novel comes from trying to piece together an understanding of what exactly is happening on the mainland, considering that the perspective given to us is that of two people stranded in the middle of nowhere.

At times, Doggerland reminded me of Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, which also describes a future marked by rising water levels. However, whereas Hunter’s vision, with its images of creation, birth and maternity, is ultimately a hopeful one, Smith’s is devoid of any feminine figure, suggesting a sterility in the human condition which can only lead to its annihilation. Doggerland is haunting in its bleakness:

The wind blows, the branches creak and turn. Somewhere in the metal forest, a tree slumps, groans but does not quite fall. The landscape holds fast, for a moment. For how long? It may be centuries. Barely worth mentioning in the lifetime of water...

More about this novel, with music to listen to at: https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2018/11/become-ocean-ben-smiths-doggerland.ht... ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Mar 5, 2021 |
Doggerland is the name given in the 1990s to an area of land, now submerged beneath the North Sea, which connected Great Britain to Continental Europe. Doggerland once extended to modern-day Denmark and far north to the Faroe Islands. It was a grassland roamed by mammoth, lion, red deer – and their human hunters – but melting ice turned it into an area of marshes and wetlands before it was finally and definitively claimed by the waves around 8,000 years ago. (Incidentally, Doggerland was recently in the news following exciting archaeological discoveries).

The idea of a submerged world resonates with mythical and poetic associations and, as a result, “Doggerland” lends itself well as the title of Ben Smith’s debut novel. The work, in fact, portrays an unspecified but seemingly not-so-distant future, where global warming and rising sea levels (possibly exacerbated by some other cataclysm) have eroded the coastline and brought to an end civilisation as we know it.

This strange, new world is made stranger still by the purposely constrained stage against which the narrative plays out. Smith focuses on two main characters, maintenance men on an enormous wind farm out in the North Sea, who lead a solitary existence on a decrepit rig amongst the rusting turbines. Although we are given their names, they are generally referred to in the novel as “the Boy” and “the Old Man”. Early on in the book, we are told that of course, the boy was not really a boy, any more than the old man was all that old; but the names are relative, and out of the grey, some kind of distinction was necessary. It’s a significant observation, because much of the novel’s undeniable power derives from a skilful use of a deliberately limited palette. The men’s life is marked by a sense of claustrophobia, the burden of an inescapable fate. The monotony of the routine is only broken by occasional visits of the Supply Boat and its talkative “Pilot”, who is the only link with what remains of the ‘mainland’. The struggle to keep the turbines working with limited resources becomes an image of the losing battle against the rising oceans, at once awesome and terrible in their vastness. The Romantic notion of the Sublime is given an environmentalist twist. One can smell the rust and smell the sea-salt.

Whilst the reader is made to share the ennui of the Boy and his mentor, Smith turns his story into a gripping one by making the most of the scant plot elements. For instance, we are told that the Boy was sent on the rig to replace his father, after the latter’s unsuccessful escape attempt. What exactly happened remains unclear but, together with the Boy, we glean some disturbing details along the way – in this regard, Smith takes a page out of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction, and suggests that society has been taken over by some sort of totalitarian regime of whom the Boy’s father was, presumably, a victim. Part of the pleasure in reading this novel comes from trying to piece together an understanding of what exactly is happening on the mainland, considering that the perspective given to us is that of two people stranded in the middle of nowhere.

At times, Doggerland reminded me of Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, which also describes a future marked by rising water levels. However, whereas Hunter’s vision, with its images of creation, birth and maternity, is ultimately a hopeful one, Smith’s is devoid of any feminine figure, suggesting a sterility in the human condition which can only lead to its annihilation. Doggerland is haunting in its bleakness:

The wind blows, the branches creak and turn. Somewhere in the metal forest, a tree slumps, groans but does not quite fall. The landscape holds fast, for a moment. For how long? It may be centuries. Barely worth mentioning in the lifetime of water...

More about this novel, with music to listen to at: https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2018/11/become-ocean-ben-smiths-doggerland.ht... ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Sep 12, 2020 |
In the North Sea, a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres; the coastline, or what remains of it is far from here. Two men are responsible for maintaining all of these turbines, one younger is called the boy, though he has outgrown that title now. The other is the Old Man, who has been there for almost longer than he can remember.

Their work is continual, changing batteries, cogs, bearings and motors and moving from their accommodation rig to the turbines that need repairs. Every now and again they are visited by the pilot who brings tinned food for them and hopes to trade things. The work is mundane and tedious, the Old Man for amusement trawls the sea to collect the things are being washed past or to bring us ancient remains from Doggerland far below the service.

The boy was sent there by the company to replace his father who worked there before him and who vanished one day. He has many questions about why and where he went, but there are no answers forthcoming from the Old Man. Until one day he finds a clue that he has been looking for as to what happened to his father.

This dystopian novel set in a seascape that is harsh and utterly unforgiving. It has a haunting melancholy about it as the sea gradually claims back to turbines and it is written with a sparse precision that allows you to fill in the gaps in your mind. The three characters are strong, yet their feelings and thoughts are elusive. I really liked the world that he has created. I liked the way that he has linked it back to the ancient land that stood beneath the waves that still reveals itself every now and again. Yet it seems to be the last throw of the dice building this vast farm of wind turbines in response to some unknown climate disaster and yet it has come to nothing as the civilisation that it seems to have mostly gone. There are several threads in the storyline that were not really concluded and yet I didn’t mind that, as it portrays the ambiguity and complexity of this bleak future world. It reminded me of Stillicide by Cynan Jones which I read last year. It could almost be set in the same world. 4.5 stars ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
‘This is water turning to solid mass, taking its liquid forms – ripple, eddy, vortex – and translating them to tendril, flower, leaf. This is water reaching skywards, arching and holding its shape.’

I loved this book. It’s one to make you think, to ponder our future as a planet, and to accept with humility the vastness of time and the inconsequence of humankind versus the forces of Nature. As two men tend a massive wind farm somewhere in the North Sea – the Boy (Jem) and the old man (Greil) – the exact reasons why they have ended up there remain elusive, the past is something that has simply happened, and the flooding of vast expanses of the earth is something that is a fact of life. The boy spends his time repairing broken wind turbines, a Sisyphean task that occupies his days and weeks. He is also looking for his father, or traces of his father, who has disappeared resulting in the boy being forced to take over his job.

The plot is slowly developed; here it is the characters that drive this novel. And one of the main characters is Nature herself, the force of sudden storms overwhelming the sea, dust storms from distant deserts, and the water, always the water, slowly eroding and surrounding. Ben Smith, in this his debut novel, writes with the precision of a poet; there is a rhythm to the prose that matches the movement of the sea, the details are all the more exacting because of the greyness of the novel’s colour palette. Reviews and publicity draw attention to the book’s affiliation to Cormac McCarthy or Samuel Beckett, and indeed much of the dialogue between the two main characters feels elusive, ambiguous, where meaning is superficially absurd. And I can understand why Jon McGregor writes with such praise about the book, for it is similar in tone and an understanding of Nature that so imbues McGregor’s works.

There is so much to commend here, and the book is very much a timely one with its vision of a not-too-distant future where the seas are empty of fish but full of plastic, where advanced technology is proved to be useless in the face of forces greater than we can harness. There is an infinite sense of time; we as a species are simply a tiny, insignificant blip in the immensity of the universe and its forces. It is a humbling, important lesson. The ending, when it comes, is as quiet and understated as it should be; the two men, superficially at odds with each other, find a common need for company, for selflessness. A profound book, wonderfully written and starkly beautiful. I don’t give them out willy-nilly, but 5 stars for this one. You must read this!
( )
  Alan.M | Apr 16, 2019 |
Visar 4 av 4
Ruim 8000 jaar geleden verdween Doggeland onder de zeespiegel ndat het Engeland verbond met het vasteland van Europa. In de debuutroman van Ben Smith is het de locatie van een gigantisch park met windmolens dat zich uitstrekt over een enorm gebied. Een jonge man is samen met een oudere man verantwoordelijk voor het onderhoud van de windmolens. Zo nu en dan krijgen ze bezoek van een bevoorradingsschip. Verder zijn de twee mannen totaal op zichzelf en elkaar aangewezen. Het Bedrijf, de organisatie waarvoor ze werken, lijkt, zij het op de achtergrond, alle touwtjes in handen te hebben...lees verder >
 
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'The Road meets Waiting for Godot: powerful, unforgettable, unique' Melissa Harrison, author of At Hawthorn Time.Doggerland is a superbly gripping debut novel about loneliness and hope, nature and survival - set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future. 'His father's breath had been loud in the small room. It had smelled smoky, or maybe more like dust. 'I'll get out,' he'd said. 'I'll come back for you, ok?' The boy remembered that; had always remembered it. And, for a time, he'd believed it too.' In the North Sea, far from what remains of the coastline, a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres. The Boy, who is no longer really a boy, and the Old Man, whose age is unguessable, are charged with its maintenance. They carry out their never-ending work as the waves roll, dragging strange shoals of flotsam through the turbine fields. Land is only a memory. So too is the Boy's father, who worked on the turbines before him, and disappeared. The boy has been sent by the Company to take his place, but the question of where he went and why is one for which the Old Man will give no answer. As the Old Man dredges the sea for lost things, the Boy sifts for the truth of his missing father. Until one day, from the limitless water, a plan for escape emerges...Doggerland is a haunting and beautifully compelling story of loneliness and hope, nature and survival.

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