The following book review by practice director Kristian Hyde was recently published in the Welsh School of Architecture Journal MADE.
“An international refereed architecture journal published by the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff. made reflects the Schools interest in physical making in architecture, crafting and joining, as well as the intellectual making of the discipline, its science, practice, histories, theories, practice and material culture”.
This is the first Novel by Ed Green, a practicing architect, teacher and writer with a PhD from the Welsh School of Architecture.
The prologue to the book opens with one of the most eloquent quotes from Charles Darwin, defining one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our species.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.
Bacteria have been around for at least 3.5 billion years, devoid of any intelligence and much longer than our mere 250,000 years of existence. Its success is based on its ability to adapt to specific circumstances.
In reference to Darwin’s findings in the Origin of Species, the novel plays witness to a series of fatal assumptions and questions our dependence on oil, science, technology and our assumed collective wisdom. It asks a fundamental question whether we can ourselves as a species adapt to the circumstances that are the inevitable result of climate change.
As Stephen Hawking reminds us ‘it is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value’. Only time will tell whether Intelligence is a curse or a gift…
Enter the pertinently titled novel ‘The Fall of Man’ by Ed Green, a title that seems well chosen in light of current world events, and yet it simultaneously courts through analogy theological references and Christian doctrine…Specifically the transition of our species from a condition of innocence to a state of guilt and shame. All of which could be seen as a beguiling metaphor for what can only be termed as humanities current state of ‘environmental arrogance’.
After a brief introduction of abstract prose that attempts to construct the ‘framework’ for the journey ahead; the book happily settles into a confident and mature rhythm written in a plain English prose style.
A few pages in and we find ourselves on the edge of suburbia, in a typically kitsch bourgeoisie estate in middle England. It is here we are introduced to Arnold and his Son Noah as they contemplate the inevitable collapse of those things we all hold most dear.
We witness Arnold grappling with the existentialist angst associated with the 21st century post-industrialised machine, hinting intentionally or not to Kierkegaard’ or perhaps Sartre’s classic novel ‘Nausea’… We feel for Arnold as he negates specific emotional obstacles such as despair, absurdity, alienation, and even boredom.
As we delve deeper into the pages of the book we feel almost comfortable with its apparent direction, until we are suddenly and violently thrust five decades into the future and wake up with the new protagonist Noah. No longer a child, but equally as innocent, only to find a world that is hardly recognisable. Noah’s wanderings produce an undertone of Kafkaesque anguish, portraying a man unable to fit into society.
With its Utopian undertones and the feeling of change all around, we bear witness to the inevitable ‘downfall of man’ and a society confronting the possibility that there may be no technological fix for the actions of humanity.
Finally and with equal conviction we are transferred to an all too familiar city with a ‘post-apocalypse’ feel and alas we join Eve, the third Generation of this family unit.
What we experience here is probably the most unnerving of all possible futures played out in two locations, one of natural isolation, peace and harmony; The other in an all too familiar yet deeply unnerving dystopia.
As the story draws to a close with such cataclysmic events taking hold, the human dimension is never abandoned. Carrying with it many undertones of the post-apocalyptic tale of a man and son, trying to survive by any means possible, similar in tone to ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’.
In summary and upon reflection, the story comes with a stark warning of “A” possible future and confidently confronts the consequences of a late capitalist ideology of infinite economic growth and an unlimited appetite for consumption. While at the same time in stark juxtaposition we sense the haunting presence of nature, gracefully undeterred to casually reclaim all that is man made.
I am reminded of Martin Rees, Professor of Astrophysics at Cambridge, who reminds us of the numerous obstacles facing humanity in his titled book ‘our final century’. Green’s novel if anything adds a human dimension to these possible futures.
Outside of the novel in our real world, as knowledge quickly becomes the latest commodity, we enter a new century overloaded with information. Yet what makes the work accessible is that it is portrayed simply and from the perspective of a small nuclear family. It humanizes the world of mathematical statics and probabilities that surround the possibility of an environmental catastrophe and creates a timeline of the human consequence of these events in terms we can process. As distinguished Writer Salman Rushdie reminds us “we tell stories to understand ourselves, our families, and our society”. This novel could be seen then as contributing in a small way to the public awareness of not only climate change, but of our own behaviour and the future implications of our actions.
Conveniently and in closing it happens to be the twentieth anniversary of the famous ‘pale blue dot’. A photograph taken in 1990 – of Earth as seen from Voyager 1, while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home). Cosmologist Carl Sagan’s words are eternal, enduring and ultimately worth considering in light of what has been discussed – in a novel that is without doubt, timely, relevant and impressively universal.
“Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves”.