The Living Sea of Waking Dreams 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. Francie’s decline is rendered as a slow motion horror, but she is never the monster. Dying can be an undignified business, but it is apathy that the Booker prize-winning author finds grotesque. Mollified by social media (“blessed Novocaine of the soul”) and peak TV (“bedtime fairy-tales for adults”), his disappearing populace resign themselves to fading away. For confronting the lost noses, fingers, breasts and eyes would mean finding a way to speak to each other about everything else that is missing.