23 April 2012

Review 29: Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick

"Imagine that England is covered by water, and Norwich is an island... Zoe, left behind in the  confusion, survives there are best she can. Alone and desperate among marauding gangs, she manages to dig a derelict boat out of the mud and escapes to Eels Island. But Eels Island, whose raggle-taggle inhabitants are dominated by the strange boy Dooby, is full of danger too."

Why I read it: The author is visiting my school and I wanted to read a bit more of his back catalogue and this is his first novel.

The first three quarters of this book are strong but unfortunately it tails off somewhat and I found the end very underwhelming. Sedgwick wrote this, his first novel, of a disintegrating apocalyptic society long before it was in vogue, he of course did not invent the genre but was definitely ahead of the young adult trend for it. Zoe is a gutsy and strong heroine but I would have liked more detail about her family and the people she meets along the way who felt a bit more hurriedly sketched in. I would have actually liked this short novel to be longer and find out a bit more. It is rather unrelentingly miserable and I did find it rather depressing but if you're after a short, sobering read with plenty of action and a unnerving atmosphere then give this a go.

First Line: 'Zoe ran harder than she had ever run in her life.'

Zoe lives on Norwich. That's on Norwich, not in Norwich as due to the disastrous flooding and constantly rising water levels, most of the UK is under sea water with higher ground sticking out as islands. Zoe was abandoned there by her parents after a confusion with the last boat leaving and has been fending for herself in the intervening years. Norwich is gradually disintegrating, the water is still rising and supplies are running out. Norwich is not big enough to warrant being supplied and the people left there are becoming more savage and desperate. Zoe happens across a buried rowing boat by chance and manages to get off the island and sets off with the intention of trying to find out what happened to her parents.

Armed only with a compass, Zoe doesn't really know where she is going and ends up having to stop on a small and grim island as she has no supplies or water and is close to death. As soon as she lands, her boat is taken away and the sinister boy Dooby, who is in charge of the island, forces her to stay. Dooby is in charge of a small bunch of dirty starving people, mainly teenagers who obey him as the best option to get some food. Everyone is frightening of him but they are all so desperate that they fall in line. Zoe is frightened as well and desperate to find her boat and get off the island. It comes to a head when neighbouring islands attack and Zoe is stuck on the island.

I found the descriptions of Norwich and Eels Island really haunting and Eels Island in particular is a throroughly miserable and unpleasant place. Sedgwick really builds the sense of unease and dread as Zoe arrives and is forced to stay on the island, I found the section on Eels Island really eerie and was waiting  for something truly awful to happen. If anything it was a little bit of an anti-climax when it doesn't. And unfortunately from Zoe's leaving of Eels Island the rest of the book continues to be somewhat anti-climactic. I would have happily read another 100 pages about what happens to Zoe once she reaches the next landmass. Sedgwick's writing style seems to suit the grim and unnerving elements of the novel rather than the more hopeful end.

Whilst Sedgwick capably creates a gloomy, creepy atmosphere I can't say I enjoyed reading it and I kept hoping for a little bit more to actually happen. It's a good, quick read and an excellent demonstration of the creation of a future world without hope but lacks the heart or depth that would take it to the next level.

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