When the Floods Came, by Clare Morrall, is set in a future Birmingham, England. A virus has wiped out the majority of the population of Britain resulting in the whole island being quarantined by the rest of the world. Climate change has caused unpredictable weather – freak snowstorms, intense heat, and winter floods that take months to dissipate. Survival is possible throughout the country due to there being so few people to use the resources left behind by a previously advanced and acquisitive society, but the majority of the sparse population choose to live in Brighton where the government attempt to control essential services and supplies, along with access to information.
The protagonist, Roza Polanski, lives with her family in an empty tower block on the outskirts of the old city centre. Her mother and father, Moth and Popi, refused to heed advice and relocate south. Unlike most survivors their fertility has not been affected by the virus. They have raised their four children and ensured they are as well educated as possible under the circumstances. They recognise that young people are to be valued in a land with so few people, but have not grasped just how enticing and valuable a young child now is within an aging population lacking the ability to procreate.
Through her work for a Chinese technology company Roza has met Hector on line. She finds him clever and funny so has agreed to their engagement. Young people are required to marry before they are twenty-five years old. Hector plans to cycle to Birmingham and then escort Roza and her family to Brighton for their state sanctioned wedding.
Although Moth and Popi are wary of living within the constricts of government control their children are excited about gaining access to others of their age. The only people they have had contact with are those of their parent’s generation, and even they live so far away that visits are few and far between. Brighton beckons and the children secretly hope that they will be permitted to remain.
Just as Hector is about to set off on his journey to meet Roza for the first time face to face, a stranger is discovered in the tower block where the Polanski’s have made their home. This enigmatic young man, Aashay, ingratiates himself into their family life, winning them over one by one. The frisson Roza feels when they are together disturbs her. His claimed first hand knowledge of their country brings into question the official view of events as provided by the government censored computer systems.
Aashay offers the possibility of a life lived beyond the laws laid down in Brighton, suggesting that there are more survivors in the surrounding countryside than the Polanski’s had realised. What he does not reveal is why he wishes to instigate change in their routine and plans, what may be in it for him.
The dystopian future that the author has created is stark yet believable. The writing is gentle on the surface but there is a sharp undercurrent of brooding malice. It is not just the weather that is dangerous, nor the precariousness of solitary survival. There may be safety in numbers but greed creates danger.
It is hard not to compare this to Margaret Atwood’s dystopias and it stands up well beside such impressive works. An enjoyable read that made me ponder how much we now take for granted. The denouement may be disturbing, but it says much about modern sensibilities and current suspicion of central control.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sceptre.