The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

‘It wasn’t enough that she lived in her sea of waking dreams.’

The world around her is being destroyed by fire and extinction. At eighty-seven, her body failing, Francie is ready to die.  But her three children, Tommy, Anna, and Terzo want her to live.  They are sure that medical science and appropriate support at home will be enough.

‘And, after all, wasn’t living preferable to dying?’

As readers, we know the inevitability of death.  As readers, in Francie’s room in the Royal Hobart Hospital, we can see the paradox in a struggle to keep Francie alive while all around her the world is burning, collapsing, being polluted.  What is it we notice around us?

Anna, torn between fighting to keep her mother alive and the inconvenience of it all, notices a finger is missing.  No one else does that Anna is incomplete, not even when her knee disappears a few months later.

But Anna persists.  There are reasons for her persistence.  Tommy would let Francie go (he knows about pain) but Terzo is determined.

But this is not just a story about prolonging human existence no matter how cruel that process can become.  It is also an allegory about the suffering world filled with metaphor about existence.

‘They had saved her from death, but only, thought Anna, by infinitely prolonging her dying.’

Anna becomes interested in trying to save the critically endangered, orange-bellied parrot.  She travels to Melaleuca, on the west coast of Tasmania, where these parrots breed.  Will her efforts make any difference?  Or is it too late?

What an amazing novel.  I am led to places I don’t want to go, to confront a reality that I wish I could ignore. I weep for Francie and for Tommy, I want to shake Anna and Terzo.  But most of all, I want people to realise how inhumane we have (collectively) become while we claim (paradoxically) to care about humanity.

‘She was trying to outrun herself and failing.  Words collapsing their job of conveying meaning meaningless in the face of all that was happening.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith