Fiction Reviews

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

(2020) M. John Harrison, Gollancz, £8.99 / Can$17.99 / US$15.99,
pbk, 254pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09636-3


The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again is M. John Harrison’s BSFA-shortlisted tale of watery supernatural goings on in a near future England, where misfits and outsiders Shaw and Victoria lurch from crisis to crisis.  It’s a bizarre, surreal and often confusing meander through the somewhat odd underbelly of a near future England, where disappearing waitresses, an obsession with the Water Babies and a succession of strange, damaged and downright incomprehensible characters weave in and out of a narrative that, whether by accident of design, never quite reveals its true intentions.

Shaw is out of work and out for friends when he bumps into his future employer, Tom, who turns out to be his noisy neighbour and who draws Shaw into his weirdness. Victoria, Shaw’s on/off girlfriend, uproots to the Midlands to take over her late mother’s house and meets people old, young and bizarre. Both of these characters drift though their own despair and aimlessness, mirrored in the disintegration of the land and people surrounding them.  There’s a water theme – people disappear int it, or emerge from it, or live on it – and a sense that the water, somehow, is in the process of reclaiming what it has lost.  Will Britain’s sunken land rise again?

Harrison’s an old hand at science fiction and this novel will surely please his fans.  It wears its speculative fiction credentials lightly, though, and is surely too British a novel to travel too far overseas. I liked its gentle characterisation and odd story beats but I yearned for more pace and more relatable protagonists. But maybe that’s the future Britain Harrison is presenting – broken people in a fractured narrative, bemused, listless and searching for purpose.

Mark Bilsborough

See also Ian's take on The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again.


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