Here we are at our second Six Degrees of Separation meme of 2020. For those of you who don’t know what this meme is and how it works, please check out meme host Kate’s blog – booksaremyfavouriteandbest.
Once again, but I’m used to this now, I haven’t read Kate’s starting book, Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. However, I devised a lovely – well, I think it was – chain for it. Then, as the fires and smoke in my area just got worse and worse this week, I decided to go off script and riff off the title to create my own theme for this post, Australia is in trouble! I’m not going to link my books, but just share six that I’ve read which address, in some way, climate change.
In his 1946 essay, “Why I write”, George Orwell lists four main purposes for writing, the fourth being:
Political purpose: Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.
The other purposes, if you want to know, are “sheer egoism”, “aesthetic enthusiasm”, and “historical impulse”. Orwell goes on to say that “in a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer.” Of course his times were different, so his issue – totalitarianism – is different to the ones confronting us now (though, then again, perhaps not!) Anyhow, my point is that in this post I’m going to share six works by writers who also write with a political purpose.
Melissa Lucashenko’s “How green is my valley” (2006) (my review): an essay in Griffith Review’s climate-change-focused issue (12), Hot air: How nigh’s the end. Indigenous writer, Lucashenko addresses climate change, recognising that many non-Indigenous Australians also love the land. She suggests that a “bicultural” approach, which spans the chasm “between industrial and indigenous views of the ‘good life’ and what constitutes a proper society”, would be a good place to start.
Jane Rawson’s A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) (my review): set in a bleak climate-damaged Melbourne of 2030, where it’s very hot, and clean water is harder to come by and more expensive than beer. Its main protagonist, Caddy, is living rough, having lost her husband and home in a heatwave-induced fire a couple of years before the novel opens.
Annabel Smith’s The ark (2014) (my review): set in the 2040s, during, as Smith describes it, “a post-peak oil crisis. The polar ice caps have melted. Crops are failing. People are starving and freezing to death.” Interestingly, given my George Orwell intro, a major theme of this novel is how, in such a world, charismatic-despotic leaders can come to the fore.
Alice Robinson’s Anchor point (2015) (my review): a family drama, but one framed by farming and the land. Climate change hangs over this novel, with its depiction of father Bruce and daughter Laura struggling against drought, bushfires and land degradation to keep their farm going. By 2018 (a little into the future at the time the novel was written), Laura has given up the struggle, because “the climate had long stopped being something she understood”.
Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here where we live (2016) (my review): a collection of short stories about the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, and the relationship both have with the land. Although not specifically a cli-fi book, concern about land, the environment, and climate change suffuses the stories. In the last story, a terrible storm occurs, and a character says:
‘It’s climate change, of course,’ you say knowingly. ‘They say that these one-hundred year storms are occurring so frequently now that the name no longer bears any meaning. But we need to keep the name so that we can understand that this kind of storm is so severe it should only occur once every hundred years. We need the name so we understand that something has gone wrong.’
Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland (2017) (my review): set in the Illawarra region south of Sydney, and tells the story of the Australian continent, post-white settlement, from 1796 to 2717. One of its five time-periods is 2033 in which climate-change has caused utter devastation to the land and a dystopia is playing out.
So, a different Six Degrees post, and one not necessarily featuring all the most obvious Australian climate-related books. Although all mine are by women, men have written some too. It’s just that I haven’t read them. The main point is that writers are addressing this issue, doing their best “to push” all to see that Australia is in trouble. The question is whether the people who need to read them are in fact reading them?
And now, the usual: Have you read Fleishman is in trouble? And, regardless, what would you link to?