It’s almost a thousand years in the future. Because of an unnamed climate catastrophe, there’s little of humanity left. There are small communities, like the one living in what used to be known as the English Fens in Suffolk. No one calls it the English Fens. Or Suffolk. Or England. Those names are forgotten. A few other communities live their entire lives on boats. The communities of land dwellers and boat dwellers do not mix.
This one in the Fens at one time had scores more people. But gradually they left; a better description might be that they were persuaded to leave by what’s known as a Red Stalker, a human being seemingly without skin. They were convinced to leave their physical bodies behind and join Alexandria. Little is known about Alexandria; even the stalker has never been there (if he convinces his quota of people to leave, he, too, gets to go permanently to Alexandria.
But dreams are coming to the community in the Fens. And the old man known as Father is sent west to the place to learn what will happen. He’s soon followed by a young man, Lorenso, who I miserable because of his great love for the one younger woman remaining in the community. Her name is sfia; she is married to nzil and the mother of five-year-old El. One other resident remains in the community, the dreamer who’s dying of old age.
Alexandria by Paul Kingsnorth is the remarkable third novel in the trilogy that began with The Wake and included Beast. The language of these novels takes some getting used to; it’s unlike anything you’ve ever read in English, including the spelling and punctuation. I found The Wake difficult and had to stop. Beast was much easier. And Alexandria ended up being accessible as well; I may be ready to return to reading The Wake. But this is not affectation on the author’s part; the language fits the novel and is what one might expect hundreds of years after the breakdown of civilization as we know it.
Alexandria is remarkable for the compelling story it tells, and the great theme Kingsnorth has been developing in his fiction and non-fiction. It’s the theme of “the Machine,” that society is utilizing technology to transform itself, and the transformation is not leading to a better place. In fact, it’s leading to a dehumanizing place, a place that ends with society’s death.
Kingsnorth is the author of the two novels, The Wake (2015) and Beast (2017), and a collection of poems, Kidland: And Other Poems (2011). He’s also the author of three non-fiction works: One No, Many Yeses: A Journey to the Heart of the Global Resistance Movement (2003); Real England: The Battle Against the Bland (2009); and Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays (2017). He blogs at The Abbey of Misrule. He and his family live in Ireland.
Alexandria was published two years ago, yet it seems like it is written today (and perhaps tomorrow). It is a story of how technology encroaches and ultimately embraces and becomes everything, offering its own kind of salvation. But it contains with in it the seeds of its own destruction.