Civilisation is collapsing. Frustrated and angry after years of denial and inaction, a ‘government of youth’ has taken power in North America, and deemed all those older than a prescribed age responsible for the current state of the world, and decreed they should be ‘relocated’, their property and assets confiscated.
David Ashworth, known by his friends and students as Teacher, and his wife May, find themselves among the thousands being moved to ‘new accommodation’ in the abandoned southern deserts – thrown together with a wealthy industrialist and his wife, a high court lawyer, two recent immigrants to America, and a hospital worker. Together, they must come to terms with their new lives in a land rendered unrecognisable.
As the terrible truth of their situation is revealed, lured by rumours of a tropical sanctuary where they can live in peace, they plan a perilous escape. But the world outside is more dangerous than they could ever have imagined. And for those who survive, nothing will ever be the same again…
Writing reviews it is all too easy to fall back on the phrase ‘powerful and affecting’, but if ever a book earned this description, The Forcing is utterly worthy of these words. Very rarely does a book so totally engage and move me as this one did, and it really is rather special indeed. I know we’re only a little way in to 2023, but I can safely say that this novel, addressing undoubtedly the biggest issue of our lives and our ultimate survival, is already shaping up to be a staunch contender for my book of the year, and here’s why…
The Forcing is a harrowing yet grimly truthful and vivid rendition of the damage wreaked upon the planet by humankind, and as civilisation, and by consequence, society has broken down, the inheritors of the earth, the young, decide that the inaction and selfishness of the previous generations cannot go unpunished. The older members of society are shipped out to camps, with all the attendant atrocities that we are so familiar with due to events we have witnessed in the past, leaving the young to try and rebuild the seemingly irreparable damage done to the planet. Entire infrastructures of countries have collapsed due to war, droughts or floods, with an eye-watering death toll, and many millions affected by famine and food shortages. As the main character Teach, describes,
“I think of the forests, the trees, of all the creatures we have assigned to oblivion, species after species, each of these magnificent individuals. And the weight of it is beyond me, the crushing gravity of stars, and I feel as if my heart will implode. For I was there, watched with everyone else as hell arrived one betrayal at a time.”
This is truly a cataclysmic overview of the planet in crisis and how the actions of the self serving and those who choose to look away has devastating implications for future generations. Sound familiar? Equally, as society shifts in the novel, as we are seeing now, in this era of right-wing fanaticism, fake news, and discrimination, the book resonates strongly when seen in a contemporary context. This is what makes the central message of this book so hard hitting, for this is the world that in reality we have also created/are creating and literally every minute counts to try and counter the damage, which seems ever more unlikely as each day passes,
“In myriad ways, and at an infinite number of junctions, other choices could have been made, and each of those decisions would have rippled out through time and space across all of humanity, and the course of history might have been changed.”
What I found interesting about the structure of the book, aside from the parallel narrative by Teach, a man uprooted from Canada, detailing his experiences as a much older man looking back, and attempting to write a historical record, was the way that Hardisty uses the internment camp in Texas, and the characters within, as a reflection of this global crisis and its causes, and how the societal paradigm has shifted. Within a small group of characters he has the grasping capitalist and his fatuous wife, the idealistic, hopeful couple attempting to reconnect with the earth in their propagation of a small garden, the persecuted in the shape of Lan, a gay man as society becomes more patriarchal, homophobic, right wing and racist, and then Teach, and his mercurial wife May, he being wracked with guilt at his inaction through the years, and her in a state of denial to every individual’s responsibility at a personal level. As the dynamics between the group shift and change, and violence and discord plays out affecting them and the camp community at large, Darwinian theory becomes the most evident trope in their future survival, and their dreams of escape from, and life beyond, the camp. As the possibility of escape becomes more a tantalising reality than a total pipe dream, only the fittest and most devious can survive…
With the split narrative structure, the visceral grittiness and unerring hardship and danger of the camp, and survival beyond it, pins the reader into the harsh reality of the global breakdown, before we pivot back and forth to the soothing balm of the meditative and moving musings of Teach. As the book loops between past and present, through the eyes of Teach, a man dedicated to science, logic and fact, I love the way that his appreciation and understanding of the world begins to attain a more poetic and metaphysical viewpoint. There are some truly beautiful and emotive passages that it was impossible to not read again, as he looks at the world showing tentative signs of recovery, as we know the planet will in our absence, and what the future will hold for those he leaves behind. The writing is lyrical and full of heartfelt emotion and survivor’s guilt, and such an affective contrast to the harsh, unflinching style of the narrative as events unfold in the former years.
I was utterly enthralled by The Forcing throughout, with its perceptive and no-nonsense summation of the potential outcome for civilisation as climate change accelerates at a significantly quicker pace than the actions of us to reverse it. How society will break down and shift so marginalised groups become ever more marginalised, women will be doomed to conform to an increasingly patriarchal society to ensure the continuation and repopulation of the planet, and those who have natural resources left will be controlled and ransacked by larger countries that don’t as imperialism rears its ugly head once again. Hardisty makes it wholly believable and it will strike a chord with every reader, as the sheer power of his narrative and vivid world building emanates from every page. This is an important book, a shocking book, tinged with the feeling of a small hope at the bottom of the Pandora’s box that we have opened in relation to our planet, but with the central message heightened with all the excitement, peril and pace of an action thriller. A terrific read and highly recommended.
Canadian Paul E Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).The first four novels in his Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying,The Evolution of Fear, Reconciliation for the Dead and Absolution all received great critical acclaim and The Abrupt Physics of Dying was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and Telegraph Thriller of the Year. Paul is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.
(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)
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