This is the first novel by American writer Benjamin Warner, and is a very assured and well written debut. The novel opens dramatically with our protagonist Eddie, abandoning his car in the middle of gridlocked traffic on a freeway to run the 12 miles back home.
From this terse opening, neither Eddie nor the reader knows anything other than there was an accident on the freeway. However as Eddie begins running he casually observes that the stream and local reservoir have dried up, and all the trees and greenery have been burnt. He suspects that there may have been a chemical spillage in the reservoir. Arriving home he begins to be aware that things aren’t as they should be.
There are groups of men gathered threateningly in the streets; and his wife isn’t yet home. Panic begins to mount. There is unsurprisingly no mobile phone reception, and no electricity. Most concerning is the lack of water anywhere.
His wife Laura re-appears early on, and his neighbours Mike Senior, Mike Jr and Patty are all thankfully accounted for. Things quickly begin to go wrong with the continual lack of water, resulting in deaths, either through dehydration or murder over precious bottles of liquid. The narrative all takes place in a hot summer in the American south; with Eddie and Laura making half-hearted plans to go to her parents in Virginia, where they hope there is water.
I found the characters interesting and their concerns real and valid with Eddie and Laura particularly well delineated. During the reading, I found myself wondering how long I’d survive without water, and what I’d do to keep hold of my supplies. I was also intrigued to see that in this novel, ‘the old order’ re-assert itself; with the men taking charge, and the women relegated to being ‘the help’. Children and old people are depicted at best as passive victims, and at worst as being a burden on the rest of society. The novel is full of dialogue and it retains a very cinematic feel.
Disaster novels, of which this is one, have made a comeback this decade, as a response to the unsettled and volatile times we are currently living in. The last time they were popular was the 1970s when times were equally unsettled and volatile. Apocalyptic novels although differing in tone and location all have lots in common with Disaster novels, either natural or man-made. One aspect that apocalyptic and disaster novels share is that those in authority are conspicuous by their absence, either having fled or have died. THIRST is no exception, with no electricity, resulting in no mobile phone coverage, or social media access society starts to crumble. Looting takes place almost immediately, along with vigilantism as everyone seeks to protect their family and property, revealing just how thin is the protective veneer that coats our society.
I enjoy this Apocalyptic / Disaster sub-genre, and familiar with the conventions that they follow, and how they manage to carry the reader through such dark narratives.
Thirst is distinguished by an element of the supernatural, of which to say more would spoil it for other readers. I enjoyed the novel and was intrigued to see how Warner would end it, given that a happy ending would appear hollow, and could potentially ruin the book; so you’ll have to buy a copy to find out what Warner has in store.
Crime does occur in this novel, however like other work in this sub-genre, we always know immediately ‘whodunit’ and ‘why’, and there is no mystery to solve, instead, everyone in THIRST battles to survive something that they do not understand.