‘Everything in this world is relative. I can never have your life. You will never know mine.’
Four different parts of the world, sixteen different lives. How are they connected? The four different locations are illustrative of a world under stress, a world being destroyed in different ways: a tourist town being destroyed by an industrial accident; jungle being destroyed by loggers; a sprawling metropolis where many live on the street; an impoverished village with little connection to the world beyond.
And in these places, the stories of sixteen people are told. As one story ends, it connects with another: a chain of humanity forms and reforms. Some characters appear in more than one story.
Each of the characters is important, but one in particular held my attention: the milkmaid.
I struggled occasionally with the language: ‘Our cottage was dilapidating, and I knew my son was often bored living in our tree-lined suburb’. Yes, the meaning is clear but (for me at least) read awkwardly. But for much of the time I was swept up in the stories, wanting to know what would happen next and whether (in some cases) situations would improve. The sixteen characters are defined by occupation or relationship: they are unnamed representatives of their respective worlds.
I finished the novel, thinking about some of the characters and the problems before them. This is a novel which invites you to think about people: both the human condition and the human impact on the world.