Doggerland

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

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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On a decaying wind-farm in the North Sea, the Boy and the Old Man live and work, maintaining the turbines as best they can with limited supplies and failing systems. The Boy wonders what happened to his father, and plans his escape. Bleakly, beautifully atmospheric, with the slow power of water as a timeline, but it’s the deep, difficult relationship between the two men that stands out. Loved it, and can’t wait to read more by this author.
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Far from land, out in the North Sea a boy (Jem) and an old man (Greil) live and work on a vast wind farm. Their role is to maintain and service the 6,000 turbines of which 850 are broken and more are malfunctioning – ‘dark blooms and scabs of rust… seepages of oil and grease … slumped down at an angle, their foundations crumbling like silt.’ 

This is an elemental world coloured grey – mineral and metallic – where everything is constantly changing and being eroded by the sea; even the old man’s cheeks are ‘flushed purplish grey, like metal discoloured by a flame.’ The sea itself is polluted and sterile with nothing moving in it apart from human rubbish and plastic. In an evocative description we see ‘swathes of shining fluid that coated the surface of the water… shoals of plastic bags and bottles… the brittle shells of electrical appliances.’

In this bleak environment, set in the not too distant future; the two main characters are so rarely named they could be any of us, or represent each end of one life: youth and old age; innocence and experience. Their only contact is with the captain of the quarterly supply boat who brings the processed meals they live on and occasionally trades with them. 

To ease the boredom and acute isolation the man and boy play tricks and try to outmanoeuvre each other like an elaborate game of chess. The old man salvages artefacts from the seabed, evidence of the Stone Age civilisation who lived there when it was ‘Doggerland’ before sea levels rose and it was submerged. The boy’s main obsession is to find out what happened to his father who worked on the farm before him and mysteriously disappeared. When he finds a shoe at the beginning of the novel he thinks it could be his father’s.

This inventive novel, written with a pared-down style that still admits genuinely beautiful poetry, has echoes of Waiting for Godot and The Truman Show. A very impressive debut from Ben Smith about isolation, selflessness and the indefatigable human urge to create and explore.
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This book is possibly a definite contender for the bleakest book I have read in years. Set in the future on a slowly breaking down wind farm maintained as much as possible by the Old Man and the Boy whose names remain a mystery for most of the book. To say that not much is happening would be unfair (there is actually a lot of action here) but everything crumbles in slow motion and there is not much either person can do against it. The comparisons to The Road are spot-on; this future is bleak and narrow in the way th world can be seen by the protagonists. The atmosphere is equally distressing and overwhelming while the language remains a sharp edge that can dazzle the reader.

That this book was written by an author who also writes poetry, is impossible to overlook - the sentences are beautiful and unusual and by far my favourite thing about this book. The way Ben Smith's prose flows reminded me of the ocean - something that has to be intentional given that the North Sea is as much of a protagonist as the three other people in this novel.

But I don't particularly like The Road and I feel a lot of the same feelings towards that book as I do towards this book: I can see how it is very well done, impressive even, but for me the bleakness became overwhelming and I had to force myself to keep reading. But this has everything to do with the kind of reader I am and nothing to do with this book. It is a book I can see many people loving and I hope many people will pick it up - because it is so very well done and so interestingly told.
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Set in the not too distant future out in the North Sea far away from a seemingly drowned world where a wind farm covers thousands of acres, Doggerland is a dystopian tale that looks at the relationship between ‘the boy’ and ‘the old man’ who manage the seemingly crumbling forest of wind turbines. It is difficult to adequately convey the plot because the majority of time is spent in a claustrophobic world dominated by monotony and routine. This is interrupted by the visits of the Supply Boat and the “Pilot”, Interspersed between the daily goings on are chapters devoted to the past and the battle between the land and the sea which the latter will inevitably win. "The Boy" we discover is there  because his father has disappeared mysteriously and The Company (who it remains unclear exactly who they are)  have sent "the boy" to replace him. The relationship between the old man and the boy is at the heart of the book and eventually an opportunity to escape materlises but is this really feasible.

To be honest I found this personally a rather challenging read as I was always trying to place the plot into some kind of context and was at times struggling with the plot development. This is almost certainly down to the fact that I'm not a dystopian reader but if you are and wish to enter a haunting world of loneliness  and the need to survive then this could well be something for you.,
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‘This 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.’

I loved this book. It’s one to make you think, to ponder our future as a planet, and to accept with humility the vastness of time and the inconsequence of humankind versus the forces of Nature. As two men tend a massive wind farm somewhere in the North Sea – the Boy (Jem) and the old man (Greil) – the exact reasons why they have ended up there remain elusive, the past is something that has simply happened, and the flooding of vast expanses of the earth is something that is a fact of life. The boy spends his time repairing broken wind turbines, a Sisyphean task that occupies his days and weeks. He is also looking for his father, or traces of his father, who has disappeared resulting in the boy being forced to take over his job. 

The plot is slowly developed; here it is the characters that drive this novel. And one of the main characters is Nature herself, the force of sudden storms overwhelming the sea, dust storms from distant deserts, and the water, always the water, slowly eroding and surrounding. Ben Smith, in this his debut novel, writes with the precision of a poet; there is a rhythm to the prose that matches the movement of the sea, the details are all the more exacting because of the greyness of the novel’s colour palette. Reviews and publicity draw attention to the book’s affiliation to Cormac McCarthy or Samuel Beckett, and indeed much of the dialogue between the two main characters feels elusive, ambiguous, where meaning is superficially absurd. And I can understand why Jon McGregor writes with such praise about the book, for it is similar in tone and an understanding of Nature that so imbues McGregor’s works. 

There is so much to commend here, and the book is very much a timely one with its vision of a not-too-distant future where the seas are empty of fish but full of plastic, where advanced technology is proved to be useless in the face of forces greater than we can harness. There is an infinite sense of time; we as a species are simply a tiny, insignificant blip in the immensity of the universe and its forces. It is a humbling, important lesson. The ending, when it comes, is as quiet and understated as it should be; the two men, superficially at odds with each other, find a common need for company, for selflessness. A profound book, wonderfully written and starkly beautiful. I don’t give them out willy-nilly, but 5 stars for this one. You must read this!

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in return for an honest and unbiased review.)
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Ben Smith’s novel takes place on an offshore windfarm stretching for thousands of acres – all that is visible from the main rig is row upon row of turbines as far as the eye can see. The Boy, who is no longer a boy, and the Old Man, whose age is difficult to determine, are charged with its maintenance. They live alone with only infrequent visits from a loquacious but corrupt boatman who brings them essential supplies.

The Boy’s father once worked on the farm but disappeared in puzzling circumstances. Consequently, the son was sent by the Company to fulfil his contract, but where he went remains a mystery and the Old Man is loath to discuss the matter.

Doggerland isn’t a setting conjured up by the author, but an area of land that once connected Great Britain to continental Europe. It is now submerged beneath North Sea after being flooded by rising sea levels around 6,500–6,200 BCE but was hitherto a rich habitat colonised by humans during the Mesolithic period. Something similar appears to be taking place on the mainland, though the protagonists haven’t returned home or seen the coastline since taking up their positions and know next to nothing about events in the wider world.

In a recent post I quoted from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale about societal changes happening so slowly they are almost imperceptible, or as she put it far more vividly: “in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” It strikes me this is what Smith has endeavoured to demonstrate in his novel. Civilization, once so progressive and dynamic, is now, much like this immense, expiring windfarm, corroded and all but unsalvageable.

Doggerland is a compelling, finely crafted novel about isolation, selflessness and hope in hopeless circumstances. An impressive debut.
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Living on the NE coastline with one small wind farm in sight and the development of the huge Dogger Bank wind farm in progress my curiosity was already heightened and I was really looking forward to reading Doggerland because of this. I was not disappointed.

From the very beginning the atmosphere created is both claustrophobic and melancholic and yet offers enough hope to make it deeply compelling. Ben Smith has created a powerful and vivid vision of the future which is at once both terrifying and enjoyable.

The picture created is one of grim blues and rusting greys, a vast expansion of loneliness and longing, of isolation and endurance. There is also an air of mystery throughout the whole scene.

There are more questions than there are answers as we experience the lives of the Boy, the Old Man and their solitary existence played out against the backdrop of a decrepit rig and rusting turbine and the monotony of their routine alleviated only occasionally by the arrival of the supply boat driven by the Pilot, their only link with what remains of the 'mainland'.

Part of the pleasure in reading this novel comes from trying to decipher and understand what has happened and why things are as they are. Set against this is the daily struggle and seemingly increasing futility the Boy and the Old Man face in their daily routine of keeping the turbines working with limited resources and undercurrents of hope.

And against all of this is the infinite patience and power of water overtaking everything. "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."

Bleak, haunting and compelling I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
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My thanks to HarperCollins UK for an advanced copy via NetGalley of this debut novel from Ben Smith. On the publisher’s website, author Melissa Harrison describes Doggerland as “The Road meets Waiting for Godot: powerful, unforgettable, unique”. 

The setting is the not-too-far-distant future on a vast offshore wind farm in the North Sea where two men (The Old Man and The Boy - they are named, but their names are rarely used) work as maintenance engineers. They are almost entirely alone and the boy is only there because his father, who previously worked there, disappeared mysteriously and The Company (whoever they may be) sent the boy to replace him. The relationship between the old man and the boy is a key element of the story as it develops. The old man scours the sea bed for lost things and talks repeatedly of how it all used to be dry land around them. The boy begins to search for evidence of his father. Suddenly, an opportunity for escape arises, but to say more would be to spoil the story.

Mixed in with the unfolding plot and character study, there are short chapters set in the past. These discuss how the land and sea have swapped places, how the sea is infinitely patient but wins the battles. These passages flow back in time and then come forward again, like the tide going in and out (or out and in, depending on which viewpoint you take).

The comparison with The Road comes from the setting which is the not-too-far-distant future when the sea has become a dead place and where our two protagonists live a lonely existence with only occasional visits from a supply ship. It is bleak, it is depressing:

“The cellophane creaked. The sun grated and the shiny surfaces grated but he didn’t move or get up. He’s stopped going outside. He’d stopped watching the water for things might drift past. He’d stopped searching for lights. He’d stopped going down to check on the boat. For a long time, all he’d done was stare out at the horizon - the long, uninterrupted line of it. The openness almost made him dizzy. There was nothing to draw the eye, nothing to catch hold of, just the clouds rushing past, and the currents sweeping. Everything moved away from him out there…”

And the comparison with Waiting for Godot comes from there being two men waiting and waiting while not very much happens. However, this is less true than the bleakness, because there is action and plot movement through this story. There is also humour in the writing. You can’t go wrong with a good old English pun which comes when discussing the “homebrew” that the old man concocts from all kinds of bizarre (and dangerous) ingredients:

“The boy had once found him prying the letters off one of the rig’s warning signs and scattering them into the vats. He said the brew need more character.”

A lot of the writing is poetic in nature. Smith imports a few words from other languages (I think that’s where they come from!) and is not, it seems, averse to making up some new words. “Gurrelly” may or may not be a typo, but whatever it is, it should stay in the book as it is a magnificent word! In the first few chapters, I kept highlighting passages and making a note that said “cinematic”: Smith’s writing draws vivid images in your mind and it is hard not to see some passages as clips from a movie. For example, try to read this without imagining a camera pulling away from the boy to expose the vastness of the sea around him:

“The boy tied off the line, straightened his back and blew lightly on his palms. ‘Good catch,’ he said.

Beside him, the thick steel support rose twenty metres to the rig. Above the rig’s squat rectangular housing, the blades of the nearest turbine turned slowly in the washed-out sky. All around, to every horizon, the blades of the wind farm turned.”

As the publisher’s website says, “Doggerland is a haunting and beautifully compelling story of loneliness and hope, nature and survival.” It’s a compelling read.
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Doggerland is a remarkable debut novel, creating a claustrophobic sense of growing danger against the backdrop of a wind farm seascape that the two main characters are effectively trapped within. The novel dwells on the minutiae of keeping a wind farm operational with limited supplies, slowly developing the back story of the global and personal  circumstances that have led to this position. The sea and wind themselves are the other main character, being the drivers behind short term activity and long term outcomes. 

i recognise this doesn’t necessarily sound very thrilling (i’m a terrible spoiler-phobe), but be reassured that  Doggerland skilfully builds tension from both circumstance and the interpersonal dynamic.
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Doggerland is the name given in the 1990s to an area of land, now submerged beneath the North Sea, which connected Great Britain to Continental Europe. Doggerland once extended to modern-day Denmark and far north to the Faroe Islands. It was a grassland roamed by mammoth, lion, red deer – and their human hunters – but melting ice turned it into an area of marshes and wetlands before it was finally and definitively claimed by the waves around 8,000 years ago. (Incidentally, Doggerland was recently in the news following exciting archaeological discoveries).

The idea of a submerged world resonates with mythical and poetic associations and, as a result, “Doggerland” lends itself well as the title of Ben Smith’s debut novel. The work, in fact, portrays an unspecified but seemingly not-so-distant future, where global warming and rising sea levels (possibly exacerbated by some other cataclysm) have eroded the coastline and brought to an end civilisation as we know it. 


This strange, new world is made stranger still by the purposely constrained stage against which the narrative plays out. Smith focuses on two main characters, maintenance men on an enormous wind farm out in the North Sea, who lead a solitary existence on a decrepit rig amongst the rusting turbines. Although we are given their names, they are generally referred to in the novel as “the Boy” and “the Old Man”. Early on in the book, we are told that of course, the boy was not really a boy, any more than the old man was all that old; but the names are relative, and out of the grey, some kind of distinction was necessary. It’s a significant observation, because much of the novel’s undeniable power derives from a skilful use of a deliberately limited palette. The men’s life is marked by a sense of claustrophobia, the burden of an inescapable fate. The monotony of the routine is only broken by occasional visits of the Supply Boat and its talkative “Pilot”, who is the only link with what remains of the ‘mainland’. The struggle to keep the turbines working with limited resources becomes an image of the losing battle against the rising oceans, at once awesome and terrible in their vastness. The Romantic notion of the Sublime is given an environmentalist twist. One can smell the rust and smell the sea-salt.

Whilst the reader is made to share the ennui of the Boy and his mentor, Smith turns his story into a gripping one by making the most of the scant plot elements. For instance, we are told that the Boy was sent on the rig to replace his father, after the latter’s unsuccessful escape attempt. What exactly happened remains unclear but, together with the Boy, we glean some disturbing details along the way – in this regard, Smith takes a page out of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction, and suggests that society has been taken over by some sort of totalitarian regime of whom the Boy’s father was, presumably, a victim. Part of the pleasure in reading this novel comes from trying to piece together an understanding of what exactly is happening on the mainland, considering that the perspective given to us is that of two people stranded in the middle of nowhere.

At times, Doggerland reminded me of Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, which also describes a future marked by rising water levels. However, whereas Hunter’s vision, with its images of creation, birth and maternity, is ultimately a hopeful one, Smith’s is devoid of any feminine figure, suggesting a sterility in the human condition which can only lead to its annihilation. Doggerland is haunting in its bleakness: 

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... 

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2018/11/become-ocean-ben-smiths-doggerland.html
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I really wanted to like this book more than I did! I loved the premise and the first couple of chapters, but then I felt it lost its way slightly... There were huge chunks of descriptive prose describing the turbines and their inner workings that I really struggled to follow and visualise, however I realise this could be my failing, but it hindered my enjoyment of the book. 

I liked the relationship between the Old Man and Young Boy but felt I wanted more from them. I wanted to know more about them and I enjoyed their dialogue. 

The imagery it created was great but I wanted to know more about the context and how they ended up there etc... I realise the lack of this information was the authors choice, but I felt that had more context been provided it would have really deepened the story and its relationships. 

I felt the flashback paragraphs weren’t needed and didn’t deepen the narrative. 

I would certainly read something else by this author however as despite my negative comments I enjoyed some of it and liked the style in some places.
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Doggerland by author Ben Smith is a gripping and haunting read of a novel. Pulls you in from the beginning and holds you in. I loved the near future book, Doggerland!
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for an arc copy of Doggerland in exchange for an honest review.
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Good read. Enjoyed this book. Ok overall.
Thank you to both NetGalley and Harper Collins uk for my eARC of this book in exchange for honest unbiased review
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Sanity and resolve patiently weather the bleak and hostile location of a decaying oceanic platform, until monotony casts off and drifts beyond its dependable boundary. 

Its occupants, a duo humbly labelled as ‘the boy’ and ‘the old man’, manage a forest of wind turbines surrounded by the endlessly churning ocean and a brooding confinement that ebbs and flows. Here, time erodes at a gruelling pace as they surrender to the predictability of one another’s company.

The chronic tedium of their routine keeps a steady course throughout and is carried along on alternating currents of futility and hope, while the narrative shifts between the past and present to reveal the prospect of a desperately punishing future.

This convincingly speculative read will see you brushing the salt off your clothes and guarding your heart against its lingering misery. Even when I’d reached the end I felt as though a little part of me was still clinging to the uninviting deck.
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