36.1 | Sarah E. McFarland

“Nothing Before the Sea Was Real”: The Dying World of John Lanchester’s The Wall

This essay argues that John Lanchester’s novel The Wall can provide empathetic intelligibility to what might otherwise be an inscru- table future by analyzing crucial aspects of its dying world that resist the exhausted literary conventions found in much post-apocalyptic climate fiction. These conventions are transformed in The Wall to emphasize shared humanity, queer futurity, greater inclusivity, and an uncertain, circuitous climate- changed ending. The Wall’s vivid literary experiences can help shape readers’ perceptions toward imagining more ethical presents and alternative futures, making an abstraction like ‘climate emer- gency’ imaginable, knowable, and actionable.

Sarah E. McFarland is a professor of literature and theory at Northwestern State University of Louisiana, USA. Her most recent book, Ecocollapse Fiction and Cultures of Human Extinction (Bloomsbury 2021), is a valuable corrective to exceptionalist, anthropocentric thinking amidst the uncertainties of catastrophic climate change.