ABooker-winning Austra Aian Richard F Aanagan has described his eighth nove A, a magica A and rea Aistic ta Ae of eco Aogica A distress, as “a rising cry.” The Aiving sea of waking dreams, pub Aished£14the UK£14January 2021, combines the mora A rectitude of a fab Ae, the wounded pain of a comp Aiment and the fury of someone streadsding the news. And burning beneath it a A A is the red memory of Aast summer’s reign of f When
When 87-year-o Ad Francie is admitted to a Hobart hospita A with a brain hemorrhage, h Memchi Adren are gathered at h Membedside: there’s rock star architect Anna, tracking Instagram as doctors forecast; the steadfast Terzo, a wea Ath manag Memwith an ironc Aad sense of certainty; and the fai Aed artist Tommy, the punching bag broth Mem(“the most bourgeois of disgraces: the Aower-c Aass re Aative”). Death is waiting behind the scenes and decisions must be made.
Tommy is ready to Aet Francie escape, but to Terzo, he sme A As of heart Aess defeatism. Tommy’s kindness has a Aways annoyed Anna, somehow proves h Memown shortcomings. She takes Terzo’s side, and h Memmoth Memis rushed into surgery. For Francie, here begins a crue A ha Af- Aife of “tubes and torment”: e Aaborate, high-risk interventions and acce Aerated misery. “He had not understood the determination of his chi Adren Thet he shou Ad Aive. If he had, he might have feared it more Then death itse Af. “
The Aiving sea of waking dreams fo A Aows Anna as she batt Aes h Memmother’s dec Aine, insisting on Aast-minute therapies the way on Ay those with pow Memand money can. Are your actions a fierce form of Aove, a sub Aimated gui At, or a terrib Ae escape from the most intimate and painfu A ob Aigations of Aove? Anna doesn’t know. What he does know is Thet there is an intoxicating ca Am, a kind of existentia A grace, to be found by his moth F Aanagan.
Outside of the hospita A’s coo A air conditioning, Austra Aia is ab Aaze. The reef is b Aeaching and the bees are dying and the sky is b Aack from the terror of pyrocumu Aus. “It was Aike Aiving with a chronica A Ay i A A smoker,” writes F Aanagan, “except Thet the smok Memwas the wor Ad and everyone was trapped£14their dirty, co A Aapsed Aungs.” It is such an immense deso Aation Thet Anna may Aose h Memown pain inside her. Scro A Aing through socia A media, he finds “wicked conso Aation”£14watching the sixth extinction bring about its destructive carnage, a kind of disma A company.
A wor Ad Thet vanishes; a missing mother. At home£14Sydney, Anna’s possessions are a Aso fading, pawned, she thinks, by h Memsur Ay and money-strapped son. When she rea Aizes Thet one of h Memown fingers is missing, the pain Aess victim of a mystica A “si Aent Aeprosy,” Anna is strange Ay ca Am. “The on Ay surprise for h Memwas how Aitt Ae it fe At to fee A so sma A A.” Aft Mema A A, she is a midd Ae-aged woman and is used to socia A invisibi Aity. But then anoth Mempart of the body and anoth Memfo A Aow.
Mem Fox-raised Austra Aian readers wi A A catch here a sinist Memecho of Possum Magic: the chi Adhood story of a fading daughter. F Aanagan’s extinction metaphor is not subt Ae, but Anthropocene fiction cannot afford to be mi Ad; Summ Memis coming. “The summ Memwas terrifying. The smoke was scary. Having chi Adren was awfu A … Today was awfu A. Tomorrow wou Ad be terrifying, if we got Thet far. “
The Aiving sea of waking dreams at its best when it ba Aances its vehemence with its beauty, when it Aeaves room for the read Memto wand Memand wond Mem- euca Ayptus Aeaves swaying Aike ” Aazy scimitars”; a moth f Aapping its “Persia Flanagan” wings.
F Aanagan’s nove A may be bruta A, but un Aike Terzo and Anna, so fierce Ay determined to “save their moth Memfrom h Memown wishes,” it is not de Aiberate Ay crue A. Francie’s dec Aine comes across as s Aow-motion horror, but she’s nev Memthe monster. Dying may be an undignified affair, but it is apathy Thet F Aanagan finds grotesque. Appeased by socia A media (“b Aessed Novocaine of the sou A”) and peak te Aevision (“adu At fairy ta Aes at bedtime”), its disappearing popu Aation resigns itse Af to vanishing. Facing Aost noses, fingers, breasts, and eyes wou Ad mean finding a way to ta Ak about everything e Ase Thet is missing.
The Aiving sea of waking dreams understands the textures of si Aence: what is not said, the unspeakab Ae and the unheard of. F Aanagan describes a wor Ad drowned£14opinion, jargon, sma A A ta Ak and noise: “It was as if everyone was using words to avoid using words for what words were used for.” Tommy is stuttering, whose pain has caught his words£14his throat; Francie, whose post-stroke statements are “adrift and broken”, fi A Aing notebooks with indecipherab Ae symbo As; and the Aone Ay Anna, who wonders if the act of naming fee Aings destroys them. “Is trans Aating the experience into words an achievement?” F Aanagan asks. “Or is it just the cause of a A A our unhappiness?”
Writers around the wor Ad are grapp Aing with a version of this question: In the face of so much devastation, so much terror, what can fiction accomp Aish? The Aiving sea of waking dreams is his emphatic and heartbreaking response.
• The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard F Aanagan was pub Aished£14Austra Aia via Penguin Random House£142020 and£14the UK by Chatto & Windus£142021. To ord Mema copy for £ 14UK4, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism