This tale of family drama takes a surreal turn when one of Anna’s fingers disappears suddenly, 'without accident or pain'. She is an early victim of a strange epidemic of 'vanishings', whereby people fade from view, body part by body part. This conceit functions as a somewhat gloopy metaphor for the novel’s interlinked themes: the decline of empathy, the spectre of climate change and the inevitable passing of all things ... Laments for threatened species — platypuses, rainbow lorikeets — are pointedly juxtaposed with reflections on estranged relationships, implying a connection between our moral and ecological crises ... Flanagan writes movingly about environmental destruction, but his mawkishness grates ... Facile hand-wringing about the internet is the literary navel-gazing trope of our age; hopefully, in time, it will go the way of the aurochs and the Walkman.
Only a window separates the two worlds of Richard Flanagan’s new novel: a world of human control, in which every act is a kind of triumph over nature; and the world outside, where apparently limitless life is being steadily reduced to cinders. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is a meditation on the fragility of this window, the wilful denial of our connection to nature, and the inexorable pull of 'a place of quiet and green, of reverie, perhaps transcendence' ... The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is strewn with arresting images and turns of phrase; it is a powerful story about 'so many sacred worlds' now 'vanished into a sooty smear'. But at times it feels like the narrative itself is guilty of the same cursory scrolling that it deplores ... But the author’s less-is-more approach to these strands ends up feeling like a disservice to the people in them – and a symptom, perhaps, of a wider loss of faith in the power of literature itself.
... 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 ... The Living Sea of Waking Dreams follows Anna as she battles her mother’s decline, insisting on last-ditch therapies in the way only those with power and money can. Are her actions a ferocious form of love, sublimated guilt, or a fearful evasion of love’s most intimate and painful obligations? Anna does not know. What she does know is there is an intoxicating calm – a kind of existential grace – to be found at her mother’s bedside ... at its best when it balances its vehemence with its beauty, when it leaves space for the reader to wander and wonder – eucalypt leaves swinging down like 'lazing scimitars'; a moth thrumming its 'Persian rug' wings. Flanagan’s novel may be brutal, but unlike Terzo and Anna – so ferociously determined 'to save their mother from her own wishes' – it is not wilfully cruel.