Yes, overpopulation has been addressed in 1984 and Make Room! Make Room!, but Turner’s story takes its own route by examining how class and prejudices would be affected by global warming. His world is populated by a few privileged Sweet and millions of gutter Swill. The Swill have their own dialect, a kissing cousin of Riddley Walker’s marble-jawed language. The story jumps between several characters’ points of view, showing their changing relationships to other classes in their exhausted world. The reader’s relationship to the characters also changes: sometimes we like them, sometimes we don’t, depending what side of their personalities have been exposed to us. This was a clever literary technique that shadows the themes of the book: the perceived differences between classes depends on where you have recently been.
George Turner is the definition of why my reading list is precious to me. I would have never come across this heartfelt Australian writer and critic on my own. The book takes its cues from Hamlet, and was written in 1987: I have gone twenty years without knowing of it or his existence. I looked him up to thank him, but with regret, I see that he was born in 1917, and he died in 1997; I am ten years too late. It just about makes the points his book did: we cannot wait to do the right thing.
Wonderful lessons in characters – they have many sides, not all of them likable, not all of them appreciated by others. As characters grow, they go through stages, and their qualities change, adapting or not adapting to the situation, as the case may be. These qualities – which Vonda McIntyre also exercises in her writings – are revealed in the relationships between people.