Doggerland

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

Once, there was a land where our ancestors lived a good life: a fertile plain filled with game, where a small nomadic human population roamed, hunting and fishing, gathering the nuts and fruits that grew abundantly. But the climate changed. The ice melted. The fertile homeland disappeared beneath the sea and Britain became an island. 
In his novel Doggerland, Ben Smith imagines a near-future when the climate has changed again. The ancient Doggerland of the ancestors has been under the North Sea for many thousands of years, and now, in a new age of global warming, the sea is rising again, taking more of the land. And out at sea, a massive wind-farm, stretches beyond all that is known, making the reader wonder, just how far does this future version of the sea stretch?
The time of the novel is not given, the nature of the disaster is not described.
A maintenance crew live on an abandoned oil rig to fight the daily battle to keep the turbines rolling. This crew is just two people, the Old Man and the Boy. We don’t know who these characters are, or how old they are. All we know are the grinding details of their lives, the small amusements they create to stay sane. The turbines where they work are the product of some recent past - a more reliable, more capable culture than the one the Boy and the Old Man inhabit. Their job is one of constant maintenance, constant repair, but still the turbines fail.
The Old Man and the Boy are not on the rig voluntarily, though the exact details of their exile, the coercive nature of their servitude, is unknown. Their situation is drear and desperate: the only escape from the grinding boredom of their daily lives is fraught and sudden danger and the old man’s dodgy ‘homebrew’.
The story limits itself almost exclusively to these two lives. Another, a pilot appears briefly, a man who brings supplies to the rig where the boy and the old man live. Living family is briefly mentioned, and the boy’s father, missing, presumed dead for many years. It is the boy’s desperate search for what happened to his father that finally takes the story in a new direction, leading the Boy to an astonishing discovery and an accidental odyssey. But in this world of seemingly eternal water, there is no escape. Now, it seems, all there is, is water. ‘…turning to solid mass, taking its liquid forms – ripple, eddy, vortex – and translating them to tendril, flower, leaf. This is water reaching skywards, arching and holding its shape.’
The writing is achingly poetic: grim, industrial reality and harsh, unconcerned nature are described with an equal, sparse beauty. But the story is one of relationship and family - the Boy wants to find the truth of what happened to his father, but is driven off-course, leaving the old man behind. Finally, all his ambition, all his dreams are thwarted in one sentence from the Old Man. It takes one, startling revelation, casually dropped with heartbreaking lack of ceremony, for the Boy to understand that. The Old Man and the Boy are the only family each has and will likely ever have.
Comparisons with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are obvious, though Doggerland is less bleak. There is still hope here, be it ever so tenuous. Like our ancient ancestors, the world the Old Man and the Boy knew is gone forever, but there is a new world out there, somewhere: a potential future. If nothing else, their story is a salient reminder that nothing, not the land beneath our feet nor the oceans themselves, are eternal. All things change. All things must pass.
‘The wind blows, the branches creak and turn. Somewhere in the metal forest, a tree slumps, groans but does not quite fall. The landscape holds fast, for a moment. For how long? It may be centuries. Barely worth mentioning in the lifetime of water…’
It’s a wonderfully evocative novel. A week after I finished reading it, I often catch myself thinking about the world and its characters. This, to me, is the mark of great writing.
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A tremendous study of solitude, desire for freedom, and (strangely) love. Economically written, perfectly paced. A great novel.
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I loved this book, so scary yet very good reading. The characters make you really enjoy this book and what might have happened, but overall this is something everyone should read and also should tell friends about, so far this is one of my faves this year!
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Doggerland tells the story of two men, referred to as 'the boy' and 'the old man', although really it's impossible to determine their ages. They are completely alone in a dystopian future, working to maintain a steadily decaying wind farm. It's fair to say the setting is desolate - there is nothing warm or fuzzy about this place. It's harsh and uncompromising. I've recently discovered that I have a mild case of 'Thalassophobia' - I swear I'm not making this up! This is an intense and persistent fear of the sea or of sea travel and can include fear of being in large bodies of water, fear of the vast emptiness of the sea, of sea waves, and fear of distance from land. It explains why I want to vomit when I saw pictures of vast oceans or waterfalls.

So, a book set on a rig in the middle of a vast ocean was always going to make me feel somewhat nauseous and the setting is described in such a visceral manner that I really felt the isolation and vastness of the environment they are in. It made me really uncomfortable - which demonstrates how well written the landscape is.

The reason they are in this position is unclear, although we do know that the boy was sent to this place by 'the company' following the disappearance of his father who worked there before him. It also doesn't appear that there is any real incentive or motivation for them to do a very good job at maintaining the farm - they aren't given the appropriate materials or tools and it seems as if they have been all but forgotten about there, aside from the supply boat, which turns up sporadically and unreliably.

The relationship between the two protagonists has many subtle layers. On one level they obviously dislike each other and want very different things. But then, they also crave the company of each other and feel a bond with each other, being alone together in such a remote outpost. It is so interesting to learn of the sacrifices that they make for each other even when that means giving up their own obsessions.

The struggle I had with this book, is my age old need to understand WHY things are happening. There is no explanation of what is going on on the mainland and what has happened to human society with this rise of sea levels. It didn't make sense to me why they were even there. If the wind farm was so important to keep going, in order to supply energy to whatever civilization remained, then why were two massively under-qualified individuals left there to fight against a tide of rot and decay? Why wouldn't there have been more people based on the rig? Perhaps this is my fault, in constantly trying to make sense of things, instead of just accepting the narrative for what it is. Also, in following our two protagonists, there is quite a lot of focus on the intricate workings and mechanics of the wind turbines, which I found a bit monotonous at times.

Ultimately this is a story about the relationship between these two men and the mechanisms they use to survive in such a hostile environment. I can well imagine that some readers will love the introspective nature of it and the atmospheric landscape it is set in. Ultimately though, I found it just too bleak and I couldn't fully invest in the story when I couldn't understand why they would even be there in the first place...
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This was a wonderfully atmospheric quick read. It tells the story of an old man (who isn't really that old) and a boy (who isn't really still a boy) living alone in a post apocalyptic world tending to a wind farm that stretches for thousands of acres. 
The dialogue between the pair, much like the environment is spartan. But almost conversely this makes for a gloriously rich connection between the two. The boy has come to the wind farm to fulfil his father's contract to "the company" after his father's disappearance and presumed death... 
But as the reader we never really know for sure. And thusly the relationship between the old man and the boy is one mired in mystery and tension. This makes for a tremendously gripping reading experience as, along with the boy, we as the reader struggle to make sense of this world, make sense of the old man, make sense of all that has gone before. 
I can't even begin to explain how fabulously well written this is as this book makes the atmosphere of this world truly come alive. The prose is simply poetic and incredibly moving while the claustrophobic nature of the story was almost tangible. I thoroughly loved reading this book. It was the ultimate tale of human survival instinct and the driving power of hope in the absence of light. 
I also truly appreciated the author's research into Doggerland (an area that was once land that linked GB to continental Europe but was flooded by rising seas circa 6,000 BC and is now submerged beneath the North Sea) and how he deftly added little touches to the narrative of this once peopled area.  

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves atmospheric reads and is interested in books that explore the human spirit. 


*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins UK: 4th Estate, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*
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The Old Man and The Boy service an off shore wind farm out in the North Sea, way beyond being able to see land. They live on a platform (I imagine Sealand) and their view is just the sea and various generations of decaying turbines. As one turbine dies, they cannibalise its parts to repair others. The Boy is there to replace his father who broke his contract. The Old Man has always been there. They are serviced by a quarterly supply boat whose master runs a black market trading racket. He trades the lagan and jetsam that the Old Man is able to fish up from the seabed in return for the supplies that might stretch the lifespan of the turbines. 

There is no beginning and no end. The Boy and the Old Man have no past life; they have no future. There is no boundary to the wind farm and the sea. There is no hint of anyone who might benefit from the wind farm. 

The Boy and the Old Man are suspicious of each other. With just one another for company - and the creaks and grand and bangs of the plant as it is ravaged by the sea - they try to live independent lives despite being mutually dependent on one another. They care for each other and they hate each other. 

Bizarrely, this reminded me of the vast cattle stations in Australia, remote and isolated, farmers living in grinding poverty to supply a wealthy nation that they seldom see with their meat. And inevitably - probably intentionally - it reminded me of The Old Man and The Sea. Almost nothing happens, just the battle between man and nature that nature always wins. And then, there were also shades of the final scenes of The Truman Show as Truman sails for a shoreline he doesn't even believe exists. 

The book is short, the writing is spare and stylised. But despite the bleakness, there is a warmth in the writing that keeps the reader engaged. Through the boredom and drudgery and backbiting we see genuine affection that the odd couple feel for one another. We see that some of the mutual suspicion and prying might have come from good hearts. 

The novel is interleaved with occasional fragments from a past when Doggerland was dry land, inhabited by people who could never have imagined the horror of the grey, windswept sea. It is never clear whether these snippets were long ago and the sea is the present day, or whether the land is the present day and the sea is the future we all face. 

Either way, it has made me feel that we all owe a greater gratitude to those who endure hardship to support the comfortable lives that many of us lead. 

Doggerland is a short novel, but one that leaves a deep impression.
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In the North Sea, in the not-so-distant future, far from what remains of the coastline, is a massive wind farm stretching over thousands of acres of ocean, maintained by the Boy and the Old Man. The Boy was sent by the Company to take the place of his father, who disappeared. Where he went and why remains a mystery that the Boy is desperate to find out.

To be totally honest, I didn’t really get this book. I’m not entirely sure where they were, what they were meant to be doing there, or how they got there, which was a bit of a struggle. The situation on land is only alluded to, never explained, which was an effective method of story-telling but really hindered my understanding.

However, despite being bleak and vague, it is beautifully written and I still enjoyed reading it. The style of this book is VERY similar to The Road – ‘the boy’, ‘the old man’ and ‘the pilot’ caused an immediate connection between the two – so if you’re a Cormack McCarthy fan, Doggerland might be right up your street.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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The waters of the world have pushed back the land, driven over it, covered the earth leaving a sea of particles, plastics and life built upon the waves. The Boy is stuck with the old man repairing the turbines on a huge wind farm. Is there still land? The novel doesn’t really ever say definitively.

What we do know is that Boy’s father disappeared when his contract was unfinished, leaving Boy to fulfil it. They watch the system to alert them to faults and they take the maintenance boat and try and fix the turbines, try and keep them generating electricity.

Once in a while the supply boat comes. You can trade with the pilot for more than food, which comes in tins, food that’s made in factories and tastes nothing like what the old man remembers of food grown in soil or farmed on the land.

What really happened to Boy’s father? He’d always promised to come back to Boy and his mother, but he never did.

Something about the strained optimism, the boredom of maintenance and repair, of working inside a controlled system, reminds me not only of the classics, of Kafka and Beckett, but also of Magnus Mills. This is a very male drawn out whimper of an ending-of-world scenario but it’s compelling and beautiful in its stark focus on the grey stretch of waves, weather and work.

There aren’t any answers here, there is just the desire to keep going, that wonderful glimmer pushing survival forwards in the hope of something more than function.

I really enjoyed this novel. I liked being swallowed by it, sometimes confused by how the past and present become washed into one same swell of salty water, but always also surprised by what might still be discovered between people, across the farm and perhaps further across the sea.

The title too, is of course significant. It refers to the submerged landscape in the North Sea, a landscape the development of a wind farm off the Norfolk coast has helped to uncover more about. The idea that a wind farm built now reveals evidence of a land once connected to Europe and now submerged has that wonderful cyclical feel as the wind farm of the novel shows the mutability of our present land as water continues to ebb and flow over us, constantly creating new Doggerlands lost beneath the waves. There’s a real mythic, unpretentious and quiet poetry to this novel. Out early April 2019, I thoroughly recommend it.

Next week I’m reading The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
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This is a strange claustrophobic  novel set in some sort of dystopian future, which left me feeling rather melancholy. There are just three characters in this book, which adds to the feeling or isolation and loneliness. The story centres around 'The Boy' and 'The Old Man' who reside on an offsure wind farm in the unforgiving North Sea, their days are monotonous as they fix turbines and collect debris from the sea. That is until The Boy thinks about escaping the rig. 

The poetic nature of the writing really bring the the story to life, this is a bleak novel but one also full of humour and above all, hope.
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Ben Smith's debut novel is set amid a  turbine field in the North Sea at some unknown point in the future when the environment seems to have been badly degraded and civilisation is on the wane.  

The two central characters, known simply as the Boy and the Old Man, live on an isolated rig at the centre of the field  and are employed by the all-powerful Company to service the turbines. Their only contact with the outside world is in the form of periodic visits from a supply boat operated by a corrupt pilot whose primary interest is exchanging favours for parts stripped from the turbines.

The stark and pitiless world of the wind farm is wonderfully evoked  –  the endless encroachment of water, the scouring of wind and salt, the vibration of metal under constant pressure, the groaning of outdated mechanical systems. Against this backdrop is played out the psychodrama of the Boy's struggle to learn the fate of his vanished  father whose place on the rig he has been obliged to take.

A powerful and poetic and novel about survival and acceptance, Doggerland is a kind of existentialist  fable, pitting human hopes and ambitions against the vast and intimidating perspective of evolutionary time.
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Doggerland is an area that once connected the British Isles to mainland Europe, succumbing to rising sea levels around 6,500 to 6,200 BCE. Now, in an unspecified future, a vast portion of these isles has also been flooded. A young man, mostly referred to as the boy – his naming, towards the end of this short novel, feels almost incidental -  works on a vast windfarm situated off what was once the coastline. His colleague is known as the old man, also barely named. They exist together on an offshore rig, eating dismal tinned rations, occasionally getting intoxicated on the evil-sounding hooch that the old man brews. Theirs is a Sisyphean task, maintaining the seemingly numberless turbines, scarcely helped by the creaking technology at their disposal – unreliable sat navs and crashing computer systems. Even the clocks don’t work properly. Their language contains the odd smattering of Chinese. The only reading material is technology manuals and maps showing only the extent of the windfarm which seems almost boundless – redolent of The Truman Show, of Reepicheep sailing off the edge of the world in the Narnia series. The boy works here because his father used to. His father disappeared, “reneged on his contract,” and the faceless corporation requires him, as his son, to take his place. 
The description of this book as The Road meets Waiting for Godot is spot on, and. I was also put in mind, bizarrely, of WALL-E, with the trawling of an post-apocalyptic landscape – or in this case, seascape – that the old man does, catching rubbish, sifting through it, storing it in his cell-like room – bottles of plastic flakes, old bones, pins, pebbles. Some of the pebbles have been sanded down to accentuate their shape of “headless torsos with jutting breasts and smooh fat thighs that stirred strange thoughts that [the boy] didn’t  know he possessed… If there ever had been a use for that stuff, there wasn’t now” – there are no women in this story, regeneration or birth in the world these men inhabit.
The boy is, of course, driven to find out how and why his father disappeared, the search taking him to the margins of the farm, where there are enormous turbines, hooked up to the grid but without maintenance systems and cameras. One of the most compelling passages concerns the working drinks machine the boy finds inside one of them, a machine dispensing coffee, a substance he has hitherto only heard about in the old man’s reminiscences, and to which he quickly becomes addicted.
This is a wonderful book, bleak and moving, and deserves to do well. I really hope it does.
Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC.
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Ben Smith’s novel, Doggerland, supposes a world in the not so distant future suffering the effects of climate change, pollution, surveillance  and decay. Superbly crafted to inspire not only empathetic feelings of isolation, despair and loneliness but also hope and longing for change in an environment in which it appears none exist. .Gripping from start to finish.
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This book was very different to those I usually read but, you know what, it made for a very pleasant change. Something I really needed as I had been overdosing on crime a bit! 
Set in the n ear future, we follow an old man, Griel, and a boy, Jem, who work on an isolated rig, spending their days mending wind turbines and eating strange things out of tins. The old man has been there for years, the boy having been forced there to take up his father's contract after he disappeared. All around them is sea and they rely on the supply boat which is often late. Griel spends his down-time (sometimes spilling into working hours) checking his nets to see what he has found. Jem tries to fix the turbines but, all the time, wondering about his father. And then, one day, he finds the boat his father tried to escape on...
This was beautifully written. I am not usually one for over-descriptive books but, given the right accompanying narrative, I can easily find myself immersed into what I am reading. Here the description speaks volumes to the isolation and despair that the two characters feel. Yes, OK, I could have taken or left the parts where Jem is "fixing" things but that did speak more to his character and, being a very character driven book, was a necessary evil for me! 
During the book there were chapters inserted which told about the evolution and change of land and sea. These were wonderfully lyrical and, indeed, fascinating. 
The difference between the characters was, for me, what really made the book. How each of them reacted to the cards that life had dealt them. They really were chalk and cheese, but at the end of the day, they worked well together as a team. I'd love to expand on this more but to do so might spoil things for others. I will just say that I loved the way they adapted the game of pool to fit the decrepit state of the equipment!
All in all, a wonderful story which held my attention nicely throughout. One that reminded me that I really do need to read more of this type of book. My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read it.
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Stuck in a contract for a mysterious Company (shades of 1984, although we never know), the old man and the boy tend the vast wind farm, taking the maintenance boat around to fix turbines which need fixing according to the computerised maintenance report. The report is nearly always wrong; some have no problem, others have an entirely different problem from what is reported.

The old man is a victim of his lonely trade. The boy is becoming one, although he has a quest, to find out what happened to his father. The Company forced the boy to take on his father's contract when he disappeared.

And, with occasional forays into the state of Doggerland over the ages, that is the story. The old man and the boy. The power of boredom, the eroding of faculties by lack of purpose. The interactions between two people who, try as they might, cannot escape each other.

It's strangely compelling. The seas and fields of turbines are part of the landscape, and characters in their own right. Having spent many hours gazing at the North Sea, I felt at home in this landscape, but awfully afraid of what might happen, or not happen, which was worse.

I've labelled it dystopia, because society has clearly broken down. Is there even a society left, or are they left on their own? I've labelled it weird, because it is, although maybe not in the formal genre sense. I've labelled it environmental, because wildlife seems to have disappeared, and the tale of what catches onto their hooks tells its own story of the mess we are making of our planet. The writing was great, and the concept astounding. But I'm left feeling depressed, which is a sure sign of dystopia.
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Set in the near future where the majority of land has been covered by water, Doggerland is a tale about isolation in the face of adversity. Enlisted to work on a wind farm in the North Sea by the mysterious company, The Old Man and The Boy perform maintenance repairs upon the thousands of turbines that envelop the dilapidated rig that they call home. The cataclysmic events that led to this new world order are hinted out throughout the novel as events are focused on the odd couple as they attempt to live together and deal with the intense loneliness and monotonous routine of off-shore life. Ben Smith really gets to grips with his characters in this debut novel, creating tension between the Boy and the Old Man as the pair begin to have secret agendas.

While the plot moves at a measured pace due to the nature of the job the two perform, Smith’s masterful narrative ensures that the reader is engaged throughout. There are some brief moments of conflict, but the enjoyment comes from the secretive actions of the characters and their attempts to outsmart each other. The story is told from the perspective of ‘The Boy’ predominately, and we discover that he is only aboard the rig because of his father’s actions. Some of the most compelling sequences are the moments where The Boy comes across evidence of his father’s existence and the emotional impact it has upon him. Smith keeps the audience guessing about the relationship between The Old Man and The Boy’s father, and this fuels some of the suspicion that drives the story along.

Plot-wise, this book reminded me a lot of Desmond Hume’s storyline from Season Two of LOST. Washed up upon the island, he must push the mysterious button within the hatch and is unable to leave, or else there will be grave consequences. He initially works alongside a co-worker, but both men wish to escape their “prison sentence” and conspire against the other. Smith really gets to grips with that idea of responsibility in his novel, as both men are obligated to stay in their roles but strive for freedom. There’s some wonderful revelations towards the end of the novel that puts some of their actions into perspective, and results in a cathartic conclusion.

Smith really captures a sense of remoteness with his descriptions of the rig and its surroundings, keeping action centred on the rusting metal locations to evoke claustrophobia. It’s an effective technique, and results in an extremely cinematic tone to the novel. I could easily picture this as a two-hander film with a grizzled old actor paired off against the likes of Michael Cera, or one of his peers. The novel has received comparisons to Waiting for Godot, and it is easy to see why as it is a brilliant examination of the relationship between two characters in an intense situation. Perfectly paced from beginning to end, Doggerland is a post-apocalyptic novel unlike any other I have read, providing a grimly realistic vision of a world ravaged by global warming and rising tidal levels that is slowly rusting away into the oceans.

Doggerland is an exceptional debut novel that deals with concepts such as loneliness, paranoia, dedication to duty and the fear of freedom. Its characters are rich and complex, and enjoyable to read about. It’s difficult to define the book under one genre, but it stands out on its own merits and rewards loyal readers with a surprisingly emotional journey of growth and understanding. Those wanting a more subdued and cerebral take on the aftermath of global warming will find lots to like here, as Ben Smith crafts a solid and thoughtful novel set in a slowly drowning world.
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A claustrophobic story of endurance set on a dilapidated wind-farm at some imprecise time in the future - it reminded me of Waiting For Godot, and then I saw other reviewers say the same thing: it has a similar circular rhythm, a kind of absurdity as these unnamed men go through routines of maintenance that achieve nothing other than to pass the time and give an aura of productive significance and meaning to their lives. The image at the end of the sea washing through time, civilisations come and gone, is powerful. The writing is precise, anchoring the more abstract thoughts to a kind of mechanical chronology.
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This book is set in what appears to be a near-future world, where (possibly due to climate change) society has undergone some kind of breakdown.  Two people – The Old Man (Griel) and The Boy (Jem) (“Of course, the boy was not really a boy, any more than the old man was all that old; but names are relative, and out in the grey some kind of distinction was necessary.”) live on-site as maintenance engineers on a massive and isolated North Sea windfarm – their only contact being a regular service boat from The Company (their employer and seemingly one of the few remaining organizations in the dysfunctional society) crewed by a rapacious pilot who exploits his lifeline status and access to resources to profit from trading goods between the two and the other outposts he services.

Both The Old Man and the Boy and the boy concentrate primarily on their routine of maintenance duties despite the clear decay over time of the windfarm and the lack of any real incentive to keep it operating other than a desire to give their existence a sense of purpose

“The pilot’s eyes flicked from the old man to the boy and back again. ‘I admire it, I really do. The ability to compartmentalize. To shut things away and forget about them …’ The old man put his mug down on the table but still held it tightly. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ‘… to just carry on as you always have. With such certainty, such confidence. It really is—’”

But both are also driven by memories and an attempt to extract some meaning from the past.

For The Old Man it is the distant past – he dredges the sea to extract prehistoric artefacts from the eponymous land mass long ago submerged under the North Sea (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggerland)

“He would talk about homes and settlements –a place that had flooded thousands of years ago. He would talk about woods and hills and rivers, and he would trade away crate-loads of turbine parts for maps that showed the seabed as if it were land, surveys from before the farm was built –the paper thin and flaky as rust –that described the density and make-up of the ground beneath the water. Every resupply he would trade for a new chart, or a new trawling tool, and then he would reposition his nets, rewrite his coordinates, and start the whole bloody process again.”

For The Boy it is a search for his father – previously The Old Man’s partner, and whose place he is required to take 

“Unfortunate. That was what they’d said. It was unfortunate that his father had chosen to renege on his contract. He couldn’t remember who had spoken, or how many people were in that brightly lit room. All he could remember was that the veneer on the desk had been peeling away at one corner. He’d thought about what glue he would have used if he’d had to stick it back down. They’d explained things very carefully. How the boy’s position in the Company was affected. How the term of service had to be fulfilled and, as the only next of kin, this duty fell to him. It was unfortunate, they’d said, but it was policy. They went over the legal criteria and the job specifications, the duties and securities guaranteed. But they did not explain the one thing the boy most wanted to know. ‘What does “renege” mean?’”

The plot development is deliberately very limited – The Boy finding a little more about his Father and having to decide whether he follows his desire to escape to the open seas.

This novel has been compared, by Melissa Harrison (author of “All Among The Barley”) to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (which I thought an excellent book) – the comparisons being clear, my review of that book describing it as: “a man and a boy trudge across a post apocalyptic America  …. with an ash (and corpse) ridden landscape and occasional wrecks of houses or cars long stripped of anything useful. They are heading for the coast surviving on scavenging.”  

This book shares with “The Road” the sparseness and bleakness of the prose, with the brutality and futility of much of what has happened and the world that has resulted from it, just occasionally offset by glimpses of empathy and sympathy between the characters and a tenuous sense of hope.

The book also has a front cover recommendation from Jon Mc Gregor worth quoting in full: 

In Doggerland, Ben Smith has created a vision of the future in which the world ends with neither a bang nor a whimper but just rusts gradually into the sea. I found it both terrifying and hugely enjoyable, as well as tremendously moving. Ben Smith's writing is incredibly precise; working with a restricted palette of steel greys and flaking blues, he paints the boundaried seascape with vivid detail. This is a story about men and fathers, the faint consolation of routine, and the undying hope of finding out what lies beyond the horizon. I absolutely loved it’

Jon McGregor’s “Reservoir 13” was set in a Peak District village, and measured the how the quotidian dramas of a large cast of villagers played out against the rhythmic seasons of village life and the natural world, while time continues to pass incessantly.

And there is much in common with this book – a smaller cast of only two but the same rhythmic quality as The Old Man and The Boy carry out their regular routines – the backdrop here being a combination of the harsh natural world of waves, wind and weather and a man-made world of turbines.  And it has the same sense of different timescales playing out – here on a much longer time frame as occasional chapters sketch out a high level view of how Doggerland emerged from and later gradually succumbed to the sea and of course the clear implication that modern society has effectively succumbed in the same way

"When did this happen? Maybe centuries ago. Nothing more than a blink in the lifetime of water. But they are here. And so, water continues its work –of levelling, of pressing at edges, of constantly seeking a return to an even surface, a steady state. It repeats its mantra: solidity is nothing but an interruption to continuous flow, an obstacle to be overcome, an imbalance to be rectified. It finds its way through cracks and rivets. It scrapes away metal, millimetre by millimetre. It chips paint and crumbles rubber seals. It finds new ways to make things bloom. Sometimes, it finds its work undone. A crack is filled, a panel is reinforced. But the water is patient. It’s been doing this for a long time. The wind blows, the branches creak and turn. Somewhere in the metal forest, a tree slumps, groans, but does not quite fall. The landscape holds fast, for a moment. For how long? It may be centuries. Barely worth mentioning in the lifetime of water."

The other author that I was reminded of though was the WWII naval stories of Douglas Reeman (as well as the brilliant Alistair Maclean’s debut HMS Ulysees” – just as those books are dominated by lengthy expositions of naval action featuring copious use of naval terms, passages which I felt I never comprehended and which spoilt my enjoyment, I found myself here skipping large chunks of text around nacelles, engine components and boat maintenance.  And ultimately that dampened my enjoyment of the book.
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Doggerland is the name given to an area of land that connected the UK to mainland Europe which up until about 6,500 years ago was habitable. Due to changes in sea level between 6,500 and 6,200 BCE, the land was submerged and now lies beneath the North Sea. Doggerland, Ben Smith’s debut novel, is set just slightly in our future (or perhaps an alternative present) and now that area is one of seemingly endless fields of rusting wind turbines rising above the waves. 

In the middle of these fields is the rig on which a boy (only named once as Jem) and an old man (also only named a couple of times as Greil) live. Their job is to keep the slowly failing wind farm operating by repairing the turbines. The boy uses a string and homemade hooks to fish from the rig but never catches anything living and the pair live on tinned food so glutinous that the boy sometimes uses it for patching holes in the rig. The old man spends his spare time dredging the sea floor for evidence of the past inhabitants on the area. The two have a love/hate relationship having to rely on each other but both keeping secrets from the other.

The world in which the boy lives is a cold, storm tossed North Sea with rusting wind turbines stretching out in every direction. The whole grid is slowly failing, more so as they strip out good parts from working turbines to trade for goods and information from the man who brings their supplies. The boy is only on the rig because he was required to fulfil his father’s contract with the company. The boy’s father disappeared from the rig years before and the boy dreams of escape. When the supply boat comes he is encouraged to make his own bid for freedom. But nothing is that easy.

This is not your standard dystopian or post-apocalyptic fare. It most resembles a Beckett play given the limited setting and the lack of any broader social interaction outside of that between the boy and the old man (and briefly the man who brings their supplies) and their seemingly inescapable situation. That relationship between the boy and the old man in a blighted landscape also has echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a book that was decidedly post-apocalyptic. Doggerland is possibly a dystopia - clearly a society in which children have to fulfil the contractual obligations of their parents is not a great one but we learn very little about the society that the characters come from other than this. And the North Sea is an inhospitable place to live at the best of times, but the reader is given little evidence to assess the state of the rest of the world.

Given the lack of reference to the rest of the world, there is little to draw from besides the existential terror inherent in the closed-world scenario. The whole amounts to a journey into an unforgiving landscape with reliance on a fragile human connection to get through the monotonous days. Smith effectively explores that connection and some passages, particularly around a days-long storm, are particularly effective and haunting. But this is ultimately a bleak journey.
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As an archaeologist this debut was enjoyable but not what I expected when I read it (completely my fault for not fully reading the blurb). 

If you like Cormac McCarthy's The Road then you will enjoy this! Similarly if you didn't enjoy it then you might struggle with this as the pace of this matches The Road completely. 

Wish I enjoepyed this more but sadly not. However I look forward to what he brings out next,
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Comparisons with Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' are not unfounded, this story is told in a sparse pallette with dulled colours, muted emotions and a sense of bone weariness.

The descriptions are apt and certainly ring true, I live by the North Sea (and, coincidentally, a huge offshore windfarm) and the language and imagery constructed by Smith feels vividly realistic.

The massive windfarm is central to the story and the rig where the two characters resides slowly rusts around them.

This book unfolds at a fairly sedate pace but there are some set pieces involving storm lashed seas and the rig being blasted by hurricane force winds.

An evocative and rich book which is worth a read.
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