Book Review: ‘Doggerland’ by Ben Smith

Author: Ben Smith

Originally Published in 2019

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Set in the future where the world is overrun with pollution and the seas are full of rubbish, Doggerland is a dystopian drama that follows the lives of a boy and a man who work by themselves at an offshore wind farm. Throughout the novel they face an endless battle as they try to repair the machines before they all fail. Told from the boy’s perspective, we follow his journey as he tries to discover the secrets of the farm and if there is any way to escape it.

The novel takes its name from the ancient piece of land that once connected Great Britain to the rest of Europe. Scientists believe Doggerland flooded between 6000-8000 years ago when rising temperatures caused a mass-melting of ice and glaciers. Technically this land still exists today only now it forms the base of the North Sea.

Doggerland reminded me strongly of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Mirroring The Road, the characters in Doggerland are very rarely referred to by name. Instead both are typically referred to as ‘The Boy’ and ‘The Old Man’. As well as both being dystopias, Doggerland (like The Road) gives a lot of pages to the description of tiny details and a blow by blow account of each day where very little of importance or significance generally happens.

Throughout the story we, the reader, and the boy are searching for the answers to two main mysteries – what happened to the boy’s father (who previous worked on the wind farm)? And what is the old man trawling for on the seabed? While we get quite a lot of information the answers are never specifically spelt out. There is much we can deduce but Smith is content to allow his readers to draw their own conclusions.

It took me a little while before I started to enjoy Doggerland – was the most exciting moment really going to be when the boy found a shoe in his fishing net? The plot is deliberately slow but I gradually found myself being drawn into this microcosm world. There is also a clever narrative correlation between the further the boy travels from the main rig and the more drama that unfolds.

With all this gradual build-up, the novel’s ending did take me by surprise and I think it is one that will divided readers. After being teased with possible plot threads and hints at answers to mysteries, we find that Doggerland has a circular narrative with ultimately very little changing from the first chapter to the last.

Now here I have to respect the book and its ending for what it is. It is clear that author Ben Smith set out to create a circular narrative  – with the idea that, despite change, things will always revert to the they were in time – and he has been successful in this aim. Thinking back to the books I studied at school, I can see Doggerland being analysed in literature classes for its narrative choices.

Despite this I personally unfortunately found the ending too frustrating to be enjoyable. I accept that frustrating his readers may have been an intentional choice but for me, despite it being a thought-provoking story, Doggerland’s lack of progression and character development means it’s a novel I will likely only read once That being said I would never discourage anyone from reading the novel and drawing their own conclusions.

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