Warner, Benjamin: “Thirst”

We never do find out why the water ran out in “Thirst”, yet the implication is quite clear: we are destroying the planet and the resources are running out. We all share collective responsibility for 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” was told in the first person through former track star Eddie Chapman. The language Warner used was suburban, with some nice touches. For example, I enjoyed the line, “Someone’s headlights were lighting up and the dust swirled in a dramatic way”. Not spectacular but sets the scene nicely. Similarly, the description when “Eddie could feel the heat of Laura’s blush” was on the money.

The streams and rivers have all dried up which forced communities to distil salt water from the sea. People drank their own piss to survive. The reservoir was burnt out. When Eddie and Laura covered themselves in ash to hide from a gang of vandals whom they had stolen water from, it was near impossible not to think of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.

The theme of religion was interesting. Steve McCarthy faked being religious to extort water from Eddie and Laura, harping on about how it was part of God’s plan to save them. Naturally, this was all nonsense and McCarthy turned out to be a huckster trying to stay alive. Religion did not save anyone. Consider when Eddie dreamt of how Laura’s father would speak to him about “God and faith” after he imagined having to tell him about Laura losing her baby. He believed that only God and faith could answer the big questions we face as a species.

The main takeaway from “Thirst” is just how quickly civilisation can break down under extreme circumstances. Even before the crisis became serious, Eddie and Bill Peters ended up in a physical fight over the dwindling water supplies. Granted, Peters was not seriously hurt at this early stage but it made me think of how precarious our collective society is. We have evolved to, increasingly, live more peacefully together. I realise that statement may not stand up to scrutiny when you think of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, the Holocaust, The Vietnam War, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Stalinist/Maoist purges. Still, “Thirst” highlighted 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 is required. 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 went looking for the boy that he and Laura had found, he took a golf club with him because the potential for violence was latent. The lack of water created fissures in Laura and Eddie’s relationship, “there was no reason for them to be arguing like this”. 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 broke down with similar alacrity in “Thirst”. When Paul tried to make a “citizen’s arrest” on Eddie for assaulting Bill Peters, the idea was scoffed at. Without a deterrent in place, Eddie killed Bill Peters. Once the first domino fell…

The civil unrest further unravelled when Mike Senior shot at Steve McCarthy, who had brought water to…help! Tensions were sky high and the normal steps to resolve disputes have been replaced with the threat of brutality. Mike Senior’s wife, Patti, shot him in the shoulder then killed herself as she was unable to survive under the insane new conditions.  Mike Senior then begins firing randomly as he demanded “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 in order to survive? Stephen Hawking, Yuval Noah 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”. Perhaps we ought to.


About Mick Gilbride

Aside | This entry was posted in Art, Benjamin Warner, Book, Book review, Books, Destruction of the species, Endpoint, Environment, Novel, Thirst, Trying to make sense of it all. Bookmark the permalink.

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