Gold, Fame, Citrus three reasons why people relocate to California, but, in the dystopian future of this debut novel all three have dried up. Severe drought in the American South West has led to mass evacuation with only a few remaining with their water and cola rations. Luz and Ray are holed up in the remains of a Hollywood starlet’s mansion but circumstances lead them on a desperate trek through dry desert land. A dune sea has developed, a shifting, enveloping sea of sand making existence impossible. Watkin’s tale is extraordinary, it itself shifts, like the ubiquitous sand, in style and technique. There’s a use of play script format, reports, questionnaires, even an exercise book illustrated bestiary of animals who may have evolved to the conditions (including the unseen but fascinating looking Dumbo Jackrabbit). At times this is frustrating but there’s no doubting the author’s ambition and ability at handling this tale of the not too distant future.
It’s a love story and a struggle for survival and taken as a whole is an original blend of the literary novel, environmental disaster tale and science fiction. Comparisons have been made to Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy but I have never read anything like it.
When Luz reaches a settlement of survivors it does begin to feel more conventional. The Messiah-like leader who may be helping or hindering the cause is a staple of many apocalyptic survival stories but here too there are surprises as the novels shifts and reforms.
There’s a desperately thirsty aridness about the whole thing. I felt the need to have a glass of water by me! Watkins knows the science better than me but it all feels chillingly plausible. The author’s previous collection of short stories “Battleborn” picked up a clutch of awards and this book could very well be on a number of prize shortlists this year.
Gold Fame Citrus was published in February 2016 by Quercus. Many thanks to the publishers and to Real Readers for the advance copy.