Lorraine Wilson’s This is Our Undoing, opens with a standoff between a conservationist looking for what has killed a protected species, and local villagers who want to harvest the carcass.
This standoff between Lina, our protagonist, and the native Bulgarians whose land and animals she studies, in many ways epitomizes the many conflicts in Wilson’s debut novel. A lone scientist with the backing of an international organization but little real power of her own, and a group of people who distrust outsiders with good reason and fight for their independence in the only ways they know.
Across the novel the sweeping geopolitics of Wilson’s world are funneled into just a few individuals caught in the maelstrom that is the volatile near-future her characters inhabit. This is a world in which many western nations have become some version of a police state, global warming has irrevocably reshaped the landscape and the climate, and violent tribalism has become the order of the day.
There are dangerous secrets of every kind in all the characters Wilson meticulously crafts for her narrative, secrets of the old family variety in Lina’s past, to the shady allegiances of her research partner, Thiago, the militant inclinations of the villagers they live in close proximity to, and the truth behind a statesman’s murder in London and his family’s flight to sanctuary in Lina’s mountainous home, all tease the reader in a steady drip of information as the narrative unfolds.
Much of This is Our Undoing’s power comes from the atmosphere Wilson creates; a miasma that steeps through her pages until something as innocuous as a string doll hanging beside a door, or a child laughing in a sunlit meadow, becomes a source of unease for characters and readers alike.
Wilson’s novel is, at its core, a story about people and their choices. People good, bad, and otherwise caught up in events far greater than themselves. Choices given, choices made, and choices taken away. Choices from the past that come back to haunt the present, choices in the present that can ripple out to create the future. Through each step of the novel, her characters make, re-evaluate, and cope with their own choices and the choices of others, leading inexorably to a climax that is at once cataclysmic, and incredibly intimate.
To explain more would be to spoil a truly fantastic novel from a fresh new voice.
Brilliant in concept and haunting in execution, This is Our Undoing is a fantastic first outing from an author whose work I, for one, cannot wait to see more of.