Imagine a world where our lax attitude to the environment has caught up with us and unpredictable weather and flooding have left England a barely habitable landscape. Imagine a world where only the immune have survived a deadly virus. Imagine a world where all our worst fears about the internet have been realised, where we are supervised by the government and many of us struggle to see the difference between the real world and the one we inhabit online. Imagine a world where there are so few people left that the government tries to arrange marriages and force reproduction. Imagine a world with barely any children. Imagine a world where art and culture has disintegrated to the point where all that’s left is rotting art in flooded museums. Imagine, pretty much, everything we fear could go wrong in the future actually going wrong.
Well that’s the world that Roza and her family are trying to muddle their way through in When the Floods Came. And they’ve been doing okay, too. If we’re honest. In fact, for a family of six who live alone in a Birmingham block of flats, barely seeing another soul, depending on random care packages from China, and looking after a child they kidnapped, they’re doing remarkably well. But things have started to fray at the edges recently. Roza has been talking to Hector online. They want to marry. And with the wedding set to take place in Brighton, the place where the government and most of the population now resides, the family is under threat. The younger generation dream of uprooting to Brighton and being among people, while the elders fear that their comfortable life is about to be torn apart. And if that wasn’t enough, the mysterious Ashay is about to appear among them. Ashay introduces them to the outside in the form of a fair, where their young children are coveted by all who see them. And when they see someone who looks like Lucia, the child they kidnapped, panic washes through the family and they escape. And all the time this is occurring, Ashay is in the background, charming them all individually, and being the archetypal mysterious fictional character.
There’s a hell of a lot of promise in that short synopsis. Who is this Ashay guy, and what does he represent? What will this other family do now that have seen Lucia? How will Roza’s life with Hector end up, and where will the family go when she marries? So many questions that could have led to an exciting work of fiction. But instead, we spend 300 odd pages setting up dramatic plot points only to have them quashed all too easily. Only the Ashay strand really comes to an exciting conclusion, and that happens too late and is all too predictable. And when it comes to answering the questions of what will happen to the family, well you’ll have to wait until the rushed and incoherent final chapter to find an answer to that one.
Any Cop?: Imagine the world discussed in the opening paragraph. Imagine it in the hand of a writer, imagine the things they could do with it. Now imagine that, instead of an exciting dystopia that picks well aimed holes in today’s society, they wrote a luke warm family drama that asks lots of questions but answers few. Clare Morrall has proven herself a prolific writer before this novel, and almost all of her work has been greeted with some acclaim. Maybe this will be more suited to her fans, rather than to people who read the blurb and expected a certain kind of book. Or maybe it’s just a wobble in an otherwise impressive career.