It is a bleak, Borgesian conceit and, though it is tempting to read the novel figuratively — as an allegory about global warming, or nativist isolationism, or Brexit — really, as Kavanagh himself is at pains to stress, the Wall should be understood literally ... quite different from anything [Lancaster] has written before and it is, I think, his best novel — though it has none of the sentence-by-sentence virtuosity of his earlier works. The story is told in flat, affectless prose, like that of JG Ballard in his pomp, but the overwhelming influence is the Kafka of The Trial and In the Penal Colony ... As with Kafka, though, it is hard to say what in the end it all might mean. The Wall could be about many things, but its real power stems from the fact that it never collapses into straightforward metaphorical equivalence. It asks only to be read on its own terms: as an unsettling, compulsive and brilliant portrait of powerlessness.
... if the novel succeeds only intermittently as a parable, it’s gripping as a story, especially when it leaves the Wall. As Lanchester puts distance between himself and his gigantic symbol, the plot grows less constrained, and the last hundred pages are full of tense action and sudden reversals that are mercifully unburdened by any allegorical significance. The result marks a step forward for Lanchester, a formidably intelligent author who has sometimes stumbled over his undeniable gifts ... For a certain type of realistic novelist, a shift to speculative fiction — which allows the writer to invent as well as observe — can be liberating. The Wall revels in this opportunity, but it occasionally falters under Lanchester’s decision ... The novel gathers momentum as it goes, and few readers will stop until they reach its final page.
As a parable, [the direction of the novel] is all highly relevant. As a novel, it’s fairly dull. Boredom is a hard state to portray effectively without succumbing to it. And Lanchester doesn’t have the chilling style of, say, Cormac McCarthy or the wry satire of Margaret Atwood, which could have charged this apocalyptic vision ... There are moments of excitement — incursions from those mysterious Others — but what the story really needs is a richer sense of this complex society ... Floating somewhere between realism and fabulism, The Wall doesn’t fully harness the benefits of either mode.