Book group Resources (2): ‘Sealed’

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Sealed (Dead Ink, 2017) is the second novel by Yorkshire-based author Naomi Booth. With a claustrophobic structure, and a solid grip on the workings of the Gothic genre, the intensity of this tale goes steadily in crescendo, from the first, unsettling chapter, to what The Guardian has called its ‘tense, gut-wrenching climax’. Booth has written that her fiction ‘tends to explore unsettling landscapes, strange compulsions, dangerous bodies and contamination’, and there is a lot of that in this powerful work. Using the transgressive power of the Gothic mode, Booth paints a more than plausible near-future, and the impact of the book derives partly from this extremely well-handled sense of immediacy, of giving the reader a vantage point of the exact moment of no return in ecological collapse. At all times  the reader can relate to this version of the world, where civilization is about to end, but where a semblance of normality still gravitates, a plot device much more difficult to navigate than a ‘straightforward’ post-apocalyptic world. This threshold moment, made up of boundaries blurring between the possible and the grimmest ecological reality, is dissected under the gaze of characters desperately trying  to fix some sense of normality to their lives. The book’s dark, urgent message: we are long past the moment when normality is possible.

Booth bravely tackles issues that are not usually looked at by ecological fiction, such as forced migration, sickness and disease as a result of pollutants, class inequalities, and a capitalism gone awry, all of it dissected alongside the problematic dynamics that family, partners, friends, co-workers, force us at times to engage with.

Sample ideas for discussion:

  • Sealed’s opening sentence, ‘We came here to begin again’, deftly poses one of the major problems of climate change, this fantasy that we ‘can leave everything behind’, or ‘start again’, or simply not look at the problem. How the book navigates the dynamics between seeing and not seeing, or between wanting to understand and deliberate denial?
  • The complex gender dynamics in the novel also hint at this same idea of forcibly ‘not seeing’. The gaslighting tactics of one of the characters, together with the need of another one to policy her own behavior, address at some level the problems of dealing with climate deniers. In some ways, the aesthetic choices of the novel level up this issue, by offering a blue-print of undeniable occurrences. How grounded in reality is the novel? Or is it a speculative fiction text?
  • The role of uncanny nature, birds, plants, but also the landscape itself, moves between the sublime and the terrifying; or maybe this two emotions are connected in the novel. Is this a Gothic text? And if it is, what are the advantages/disadvantages of putting the strategies of an emotional genre to work ?
  • How plausible is the vision of the near-future? Does this help, or take the text further into the realm of fantasy? How do things that we see happening already (‘heat events’, ‘water curfew’, ‘displacement camps’, ‘dense smog’) work in an speculative fiction text? One of the most shocking elements of the novel is the every-day need for ‘protected food’. Are we close to needing it?
  • One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the role of the archival practices of the main character, the need to bear witness and keep a memory of the events, to keep track of what is happening, specially as some of the characters deny the occurrences around them, or want to silence her voice. The theme of memory does not usually appear in climate change fiction; how importance is it for ecofiction to remember?
  • There is ambiguity in some of the structural decisions; it is difficult to know if the novel is going to verge into fantasy, or firmly keep to the ground of what is strictly plausible. Its uncanny atmosphere does not verge entirely into weird fiction territory. Is this a conscious decision to make the character, or the ecological message, more reliable?

Interviews & book reviews:

  • Author’s webpage
  • ‘Not the Booker: Sealed by Naomi Booth Review: A Promising Debut’, The Guardian
  • ‘Abi Curtis and Naomi Wood in Conversation’, York Centre for Writing
  • ‘Book Review: Sealed‘, Storgy
  • ‘Growing babies: Speculative fictions of the pregnant body’, The TLS

Other books by the author:

 

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