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Doggerland [9780008313364]

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Doggerland is brilliantly inventive, beautifully-crafted and 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.


Ben Smith lives in Cornwall and is a lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, specialising in environmental literature and focusing particularly on oceans, climate change and the `Anthropocene'. His first poetry pamphlet, Sky Burials, was published by Worple Press and his poetry and criticism have appeared in various journals and anthologies. Doggerland is his first novel.

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Ben Smith
Fourth Estate Ltd
364 Grams
  • 4

    Posted by Eric Nash on 4th Aug 2020

    Ben Smith is a poet and “a lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, specialising in environmental literature and focusing particularly on oceans, climate change and the ‘Anthropocene’.” The idea of a wordsmith who knows his subject promises a great read, and I think Smith delivers this in Doggerland.
    Set sometime in the future, Smith uses Dogger Bank wind farms (that are currently under construction) to deftly amplify the characters’ isolation. He then layers this with a sense of desolation: “Now, the dust in the room was the old man’s too – all tangled up with his own. If he thought about it, he could imagine them both swirling around, caught by the air con’s mechanical breeze, dragged through its vents and grilles, through all the rig’s pipework and out into the air. He could almost feel the real wind carrying them up over the fields, over the cushion of turbulence and out to the open water, the featureless sea, where all noise and trace of the farm diminished. But he tried not to think about it too much. All the dust got caught in the filters.”
    Smith’s descriptions are as rich and evocative as an oil painting by JMW Turner, despite the brevity of the text. And the simple dialogue feels very real – the times when the old man speaks, I could picture him standing before me.
    There is also an underlying threat running through the novel. Catastrophic changes that have occurred in the past can easily happen again. And maybe they already have. “For a hundred thousand years the water waited, locked up as crystal, sheet and shelf. All was immobile, but for the slow formation of arc and icicle, which was the water remembering the waves it used to be and the waves it would become again. The only sound was the crackle of frozen mud and ice rind, which was the water, down to its very molecules, repeating its mantra: solidity is nothing but an interruption to continuous flow, an obstacle to be overcome, an imbalance to be rectified.”
    Along with the environmental aspect, exploring who we are and where we belong are also constant themes. And while the book is eerie and sad and frightening, it also highlights the human traits of stubbornness, ingenuity, and love, therefore suggesting hope.

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