11 Novels on Climate Change
1. ‘Something New Under the Sun’ by Alexandra Kleeman (2021)
When a novelist heads to Hollywood to oversee the film adaptation of one of his books, he experiences drought and wildfire. He also stumbles upon a mysterious brand of synthetic water that everyone is sipping in LA and a tiny pale blue flower that curiously survives the wildfires. Capitalism, corruption, climate change and conspiracy theories are the ingredients for this novel.
2. ‘The High House’ by Jessie Greengrass (2021)
Francesca foresees floods due to climate change, so she turns her former holiday home — the “high house” perched atop an unnamed stretch of UK coast — into a self-sufficient ark of sorts. A mill powers the generator; the orchard and greenhouse are well maintained; seeds are stored. The novel looks at how people adapt to change and balance family versus communal priorities.
3. ‘The New Wilderness’ by Diane Cook (2020)
Long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize, the novel tells of Bea and her daughter, Agnes, who is ailing in the smog and pollution of the city they call home. To save her, Bea decides to join a group of volunteers in the Wilderness State — the last unpolluted tract of land. Adapting to their new lives as nomadic hunter-gatherers comes with its own set of challenges.
4. ‘The Wall’ by John Lanchester (2019)
An island nation builds an enormous concrete wall around its entire border. New “Defender” Joseph Kavanagh is tasked with protecting his section of the Wall from the Others — people fleeing the rising seas outside who attack constantly. Failure will result in death or a perhaps a worse fate: being cast out to sea amongst the Others. The parallels to current affairs couldn’t be starker.
5. ‘The History of Bees’ by Maja Lunde (2017)
Spanning three different countries and eras —1852 England, 2007 United States, and 2098 China — this haunting, thought-provoking debut novel by the Norwegian author was a European bestseller. The symbiotic bond between humanity and the environment is at the fore, as is how bees are crucial to humankind’s survival.
6. ‘The Swan Book’ by Alexis Wright (2013)
Set in a future Australia, Indigenous author Wright’s protagonist is a young Indigenous girl whose life is torn apart by both climate change and the Australian government’s mistreatment of her people. Featuring Indigenous narrative style, it illustrates how some communities thrive in tandem with nature, rather than exploit it.
7. ‘Memory of Water’ by Emmi Itaranta (2012)
The Finnish author focuses on what might well become the most fought-over commodity in the distant future: water. A young girl in Nordic Europe must decide whether to share her family’s precious water supply with her friends and fellow villagers or risk being accused of “water crime,” which carries the death penalty. A coming-of-age story forcing a rethink of taking limited resources for granted.
8. ‘Flight Behaviour’ by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)
A biologist by training, Kingsolver’s novel highlights how climate change throws monarch butterflies off course. Her protagonist discovers scores of them in Tennessee, but a university professor who arrives to study the phenomena tells her that they’ve been displaced from their natural winter habitat in Mexico and are unlikely to survive the upcoming harsh winter.
9. ‘The Stone Gods’ by Jeanette Winterson (2007)
In this post-apocalyptic love story, a “Robo sapiens” named Spike and her human companion Billie discover how history repeats itself and humanity fails to learn from its past mistakes. Governments controlled by corporate powers, merciless wars and the dehumanization wrought by technology sum up the book’s others themes that transcend eras.
10. ‘The Hungry Tide’ by Amitav Ghosh (2004)
Set in the labyrinth of tiny islands called the Sundarbans in India’s Bay of Bengal, the story highlights the conflicts that arise while eking out a living amidst natural threats: tiger attacks, tidal floods, cyclones, monsoons, and also the threat of eviction. The Morichjhanpi massacre of 1978-79, when many Bengali refugees were forcibly evicted by the West Bengali government, is referenced too.
11. ‘The Sea and Summer’ by George Turner (1987)
Set in Melbourne in the 2030s, rising sea-levels are drowning skyscrapers as the gap between the rich and the poor widens. The Australian’s novel about a dystopian future seems almost prescient considering when it was written and the events unfolding globally now.