The Wall brings the worst of humanity to light, giving us a glimpse of a dystopian future where one country stands strong in spite of global collapse. We see a naive young man, taught to fear the outside world, doing what he believes is his duty to protect their way of life. His collapse from innocence into experience is daunting, showing us the horrors of a country intent on murdering anyone from outside its walls. This is a stark vision of the future, to be sure, yet it doesn’t feel impossible given the chaotic political climate of today. Through strong writing and a deeply personal narrative, Lanchester foretells what can become of the world if we forget compassion and live firmly within fear and hatred.
A few spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want it unspoiled!
Most impressive was Lanchester’s gradual devolution through three-part storytelling. In the first part, we see a worldview with filters on. Our protagonist is nervous yet excited for the beginning of his adult life. He makes new friends, he has new responsibilities. The propaganda is whirling around in his mind and he believes he’s doing something for the greater good.
In the second part, we see the horrors of what this country is actually doing. People are killed everyday because they’re seeking safety from the terror thriving outside the walls. There are ample resources and open spaces, yet they refuse to help those in need. At first, our protagonist seems like a hero. He’s defended his country and received a medal! But when you see through the propaganda, you realize how this country has tainted the younger generation’s humanity through fear of the unknown.
By the third part, our protagonist is in the outside world, seeing it for what it truly is. People are starving and struggling, and horrors are never far. He has become one of the people he fought against and, while the ending does leave some light for the future, it can only end in chaos. This is a terrifying world and any respite should be met with trepidation.
Ultimately, The Wall is a conversation on the need for human compassion in the face of our own dystopian future. We should be striving to be the generation that saves the world instead of dooming it to become a terrorscape filled with walled countries and murderous pirates.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
By John Lanchester
W. W. Norton & Company
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