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The Great Flood: Travels through a sodden landscape, by Edward Platt

22 November 2019

Hannah Malcolm on the hard reality of life on a wet and stormy land

IN The Great Flood, Edward Platt reports the events of the record-breaking floods that dominated the UK during the winters of 2013 and 2014. His travels, part travelogue and part investigative journalism, take him across the country, observing the ways in which we are transformed, for better or worse, by our watery island.

From crumbling coastlines to wetlands, hills and valleys to cities, Platt collects stories, weaving individual lives into the wider disaster narratives that we tell about our­selves in history and myth. Some communities are permanently changed by their experience, or abandoned, while others have bent to the routine of heavy rain and bursting banks, adapting their homes to inevitable invasion by water.

This is a rigorous investigation of the blurred lines between “natural” and “man-made” disasters: Platt writes in a densely journalistic style, with such an impressive range of references that at times it feels over­whelming. Having a map of the
UK to hand might assist your reading if you are not an expert on geography.

The real power of the book is its insight into the psychological burden of flooding, both during the crisis and in the long road to normality afterwards.

For some, normality is never found: marriages end; families are forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods; lives are even lost. The author’s description of the impact of flooding in the impoverished Essex town of Jaywick carries with it a poignant reminder that deaths during floods aren’t “random”: some victims of floods sit on an inter­section of vulnerabilities which makes both survival and recovery less likely.

I wrote this review while following the partial collapse of Toddbrook Reservoir dam by Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire (News, 9 August). The reported fear of evacuated residents who were wondering when, if ever, they might be able to return home was reminiscent of stories that Platt tells: communities rendered helpless as they wait to see whether they will survive, trying to determine who — or what — is to blame.

England broke the record for high temperatures just a week before the news of Toddbrook dam’s partial collapse. The ten warmest years in the UK have all occurred since 2002, along with many of our wettest years ever.

We are a land fundamentally shaped by the waters surrounding us, and Platt makes it clear that that process of rising seas and more frequent storms hasn’t ended. Our survival depends on our willingness to live in accordance with this reality.

Hannah Malcolm is an ordinand in training at Cranmer Hall, Durham. She won the 2019 Theology Slam competition.


The Great Flood: Travels through a sodden landscape
Edward Platt
Picador £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

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