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The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan review – response to a devastated world

In this magical realist tale, the Booker winner’s extinction metaphor is not subtle – but the fiction of the Anthropocene can’t afford to be

Australian Booker winner Richard Flanagan has described his eighth novel – a magical realist tale of ecological anguish – as “a rising scream”. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, published in the UK in January 2021, combines the moral righteousness of a fable, the wounded grief of a eulogy, and the fury of someone who still reads the news. And smouldering underneath it all is the red memory of last summer’s reign of fire.

When 87-year-old Francie is admitted to a Hobart hospital with a brain bleed, her children assemble at her bedside: there’s rockstar architect Anna, trawling Instagram while the doctors prognosticate; unyielding Terzo, a wealth manager with an iron-clad sense of certainty; and failed artist Tommy, the sibling punching bag (“that most bourgeois of embarrassments: the lower class relative”). Death is waiting in the wings, and there are decisions to be made.

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