We never get to find out why the water runs out in “Thirst” yet the implication is clear. Sadly, we will not be able to unburden our global conscience quite so easily if this happens on Earth. We all share collective responsibility after systematically destroying our environment and we cannot say we did not have a fair warning either. Authors have been at the forefront of foretelling our downfall. “Thirst” takes its place in the deluge of recent dystopian novels. It is closer in spirit to Patrick Ness’s “More Than This” than say Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves” or Emily St Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, although the result is still the same: humanity as we know it is finished.
The narrative of “Thirst” is told through the eyes of former track star Eddie Chapman. The language is suburban, with some considered urban licks from Warner, “Someone’s headlights were lighting up and the dust swirled in a dramatic way”. Not spectacular, but sets the scene nicely. I enjoyed Warner’s turn of phrase when Mike Senior embarrassed the young couple, “Eddie could feel the heat of Laura’s blush”. Similarly, when Eddy is in his frantic, desperate quest for water at the stories climax, “It was strange the way his energy left him like a plug had been pulled at the base of his spine”. The prose is tight and occasionally delivered with aplomb.
The streams and rivers have all dried up, forcing communities to distil salt water from the sea. People drink their own piss to survive. The reservoir is burnt out. When Eddie and Laura cover themselves in ash to hide from a gang of vandals whom they have stolen water from, it is near impossible not to think of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.
The theme of religion is interesting. Steve McCarthy fakes being religious to extort water from Eddie and Laura. He harps on about how it is part of Gods plan to save them. Naturally, this is all nonsense and McCarthy turns out to be a huckster trying to stay alive. The point is marked and important. Religion will not protect anyone. Remember when Eddie dreams of how Laura’s father would speak to him about “God and faith” after he imagines informing him about Laura losing her baby. Laura’s father thinks only God and faith can answer the big questions we face as a species.
The main takeaway from “Thirst” is just how quickly civilisation can break down. Even before the crisis becomes serious, Eddie and Bill Peters end up in a physical fight over the dwindling water supplies. Granted, Peters is not seriously hurt at this early stage, but it makes me think of how precarious our collective society is. We have evolved to, largely, subdue millions of years of fighting instincts within us to live peacefully. I realise that statement may not stand up to scrutiny when you think of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, the Holocaust and the Stalinist/Maoist purges. Still, “Thirst” highlights how even peacefully existing societies can degenerate into paroxysms of violence within a matter of days when basic resources run out.
An interesting parallel in 2017 is the Israeli government cutting the supply of electricity to the Palestinian people in the West Bank. Within a few short weeks, the number of murders and attempted murders increased dramatically. The implication is clear: when people do not have humane conditions to live in, violence is inevitable.
Logically, as we destroy the planet we have kindly been bequeathed by our ancestors, the resources will dry up just as they do in “Thirst”. We need to reverse the effects of Climate Change now. It is no longer enough to fail to meet our targets. Drastic action needs to be taken. Petrol, diesel cars and all plastics should be banned rather than focusing on hitting opaque targets. Let us focus on the actions we can take as a society and not just the goals. We are sleepwalking into self-destruction. How long before the water runs out?
When Eddie goes looking for the boy that he and Laura had found, he takes a golf club with him, the threat of savagery latent. The lack of water creates fissures in Laura and Eddie’s relationship, “there was no reason for them to be arguing like this” as Eddie says. Being starved of their resources did it. This year saw the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, another example of how a supposedly peaceful society can deteriorate within a matter of days. It is not something that we consider all too often. It should be.
The rule of law breaks down with similar alacrity in “Thirst”. When Paul tries to make a “citizen’s arrest” on Eddie for assaulting Bill Peters, the idea is scoffed at. Without a deterrent in place, Eddie kills Bill Peters. Once the first domino has fallen…
The civil unrest further unravels when Mike senior shoots at Steve McCarthy, who has brought water to…help! Tensions are sky high and the normal steps to resolve disputes have been replaced with the threat of immediate violence. Mike Senior’s wife Patti shoots him in the shoulder then kills herself, unable to live in this insane new world. Mike Senior then begins firing randomly as he demands “all of” Steve McCarthy’s water. This selfishness and unwillingness to share is a hallmark of a societal decline. Survival instincts begin to override any sense of the collective.
How close are we to ending up decanting our own piss, like Laura and Eddie have to, in order to survive? Stephen Hawking, Yuval Noval Harari and a plethora of other writers and thinkers are sending out strong signals that our time as a species is limited due to there being “something deeper, something wrong with the earth”. We need to listen to our planet. Currently, we are living out Eddie’s pre-lapsarian philosophy, “it’s just nature you don’t have to think about it”.