Book review: The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde

I almost drowned in the beauty and tragedy of this watery novel. The End of the Ocean is two stories that converge twenty-four years apart, either side of climate change induced environmental and societal collapse.

They talked, the two men, and the mountain ate up their words.

The End of the Ocean

In 2017, seventy year old Norwegian sailor, journalist and environmental activist Signe visits the place of her childhood. Once a place of great natural beauty, the river and waterfalls have been diverted for hydro electricity, events that destroyed the habitat of much flora and fauna, her parents marriage and her own first relationship. The glaciers are melting and she discovers her old love, whom she has never gotten over, is contributing to their destruction by selling glacial ice to the Middle East as a luxury item. She is infuriated and tips most of a load of ice into the ocean to melt and sets off in her sailing boat, Blue, with the remaining twelve non-degradable blue plastic containers in search of her old lover so she can dump them in his yard.

It is strange—no, surreal, surreal is the word—that I’m one of them, the old people, when I am still so completely myself through and through, the same person I have always been; whether I am fifteen, thirty-five or fifty, I am a constant, unchanged mass, like the person I am in a dream, like a stone, like one-thousand-year-old ice. My age is disconnected from me, only when I move does its presence become perceptible—then it makes itself known through all its pains, the aching knees, the stiff neck, the grumbling hip.

The End of the Ocean

In 2041, twenty five year old David worked at a desalination plant until the drought became so severe he had to flee with his family. He is a climate refugee in a French refugee camp trying to find his wife and infant son who he and his six year old daughter Lou became separated from when they had to abandon their home due to the drought and a massive fire. Once they have reunited they will head north to the water countries.

But the power came and went, the stores were emptied of food staples and the city became emptier, quieter. And hotter. Because the drier the earth became, the hotter the air was. Previously the sun had applied its forces to evaporation. When there was no longer any moisture on the earth, we became the sun’s target.

The End of the Ocean

Signe’s journey is fuelled by anger and despair at humanities destruction of the environment and personal sadness about her own relationships. As she encounters many perils on her sea voyage she reflects on her own life and relationships, and why she lives such an isolated existence. David’s journey is driven by desperation and the longing to be reunited with his wife and son as he tries to provide for himself and his daughter in a world where climate change and water shortages means day to day survival is tenuous. Gradually the two stories converge across time when David and Lou stumble across an old sailboat under tarps at an abandoned house far from the sea.

I have really tried, I have been fighting for my entire life, but I have been mostly alone; there are so few of us, it was futile, everything we talked about, everything we said would happen has happened, the heat has already arrived, nobody listened.

The End of the Ocean

The speculative fiction novel is a meditation on human destruction of the environment, climate change, family relationships and human resilience. The End of the Ocean, translated from the original Norwegian by Diane Oatley, is beautifully written yet a frightening rendering of what a future world might look like in the face of climate change. The ambiguous ending contributes to the haunting sadness infused throughout, a must read, but not a feel good one. Lunde, a climate change advocate, is also the author of The History of Bees (2015) and Przewalskis Horse (yet to be translated), both of which I will add to my reading list.

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