‘I read writers rather than genres’: John Lanchester on ‘The Wall’

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Our Author of the Month for January is novelist and journalist John Lanchester. Our event with Lanchester on 23 January is now sold out – read on for his answers to our questions about his new novel, The Wall.

The main themes of ‘The Wall’ resonate strongly with our current immigration-obsessed, Brexit-embroiled times, but are you able to identify any particular events that inspired the book? Or was it a more general despair at the state of the world?

Well, it was odder than that – the book began life as a recurring dream about a man standing guard on a wall in the dark, and then grew from there. Perhaps because of that, there are lots of things lurking in it that were in the back of my mind – more the back than the front, though, if you see what I mean. This was in 2016 so all that stuff was very much in the news. If I had to settle on one aspect of the real world which was present in my mind while I was working on the book, it was climate change.

Did you have any specific real-world Walls in mind as you were writing?

I’ve always found the idea of Hadrian’s Wall very moving, especially the thought of the legionaries who were guarding it, many of whom we now know were from North Africa and must have been freezing their bollocks off at what they thought was the far end of the world.

The younger generation despise the older for ruining their world, and the older in turn bear an immovable burden of guilt: that could describe society as it currently is as well as the world of the Wall. Do you think there's any hope of cross-generational rapprochement - either in the book, or for our society?

I hope so. You’re right that there are problems about intergenerational inequity at the moment and unfortunately I do think climate change has the potential to take those difficulties to a new level. The solution to that is to address climate change – the more we minimise it, the less severe this problem will be.

This is your first foray into what might be described as dystopian fiction. What did you enjoy most about making the genre switch?

I didn’t think of it as a genre switch. It’s just the novel I wrote next. I think current trends in the way books are published and sold make too much of genre distinctions, mainly because they’re useful for marketing purposes. As a reader, I read writers, rather than genres, and I think plenty of other readers do the same.

The Wall’ is published by Faber, priced £14.99.

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