This article presents a subset of twenty-first-century British novels and defines them as flood fictions. Through their depiction of climate crisis floods, novels such as Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From, Clare Morrall’s When the Floods Came, and Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army constitute a major imaginative response to climate change.
Flood fictions as I define them are characterized by two features: first, the depiction of floods as an effect of and synecdoche for climate crisis, making use in particular of the historical and visual connotations of floods; and, second, the depiction of the literal submersion of the narratives themselves by means of language erosion and narrative fragmentation. As such, flood fictions tackle some of the imaginative and representative challenges posed by the Anthropocene. My reading of these novels provides an intervention in current debates on imagining and narrating climate crisis and presents a previously unexplored and underexplored subset of literary works.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
1. For a discussion of twenty-first-century cultural awareness of climate crisis, see also CitationAstrid Bracke, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel.
2. The term “climate fiction” was first coined by Dan Bloom. CitationAdam Trexler’s Anthropocene Fictions provides the first book-length exploration of the genre, although he prefers to use the term “Anthropocene fictions.”
3. Examples of scholarship on climate change attribution science include Schaller et al. on the 2014 floods in England and CitationChristidis et al. on heat waves caused by climate crisis.
4. A notable exception is CitationTate’s chapter on floods in Apocalyptic Fiction.
5. The long history of flood myths shows how, as Taylor notes, “ecological calamity is in fact one of our oldest and most persistent stories, recurring across genres and centuries from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Moby-Dick” (112).
6. See, for instance, Heise, CitationSense of Place and Sense of Planet for a discussion of Google Maps; “CitationLost Dogs” and CitationImagining Extinction on the database as a means of imagining extinction; CitationMorton, The Ecological Thought on experimental collage; CitationClark in Ecocriticism on the Edge for a further discussion of this. See CitationCohen and LeMenager on the ecological digital humanities.
8. For an extensive discussion of the role of emotion in environmental narrative, see CitationAlexa Weik von Mossner’s “Environmental Narrative, Embodiment, and Emotion.”
9. Urban flooding in particular shows how climate change is already happening (Dobraszczyk 868), as do incidents of heat waves and extreme weather.
10. Given the coastal location of Brighton, this seems like a peculiar decision. The flooding of London and removal of the government to Brighton, then, has more symbolic power than it makes literal sense.
11. For a summary of this discussion, see CitationVermeulen, “Beauty That Must Die,” page 9.
12. I am indebted here to Vermeulen’s discussion of the motif of snow in Station Eleven, which, he argues, is a way for the novel to register “its awareness of its detachment from disturbing events; in that way, it qualifies that reserve as a formal decision rather than a statement on the purported unrepresentability of the collapse of civilization” (Citation“Beauty That Must Die” 16).
Notes on contributors
Astrid Bracke is the author of Climate Crisis and the 21st-Century British Novel (2018). She writes on climate crisis, floods, ecocriticism, and narratology.