Books

Thirsty Animals review: A dystopian future 'impeccably depicted'

Thirsty Animals by Rachelle Atalla imagines a dark and terrifying near-future in the Scottish borders

Thirsty Animals

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, right? Authors can deal with this by either sticking their heads in the sand or facing modern life head-on. Rachelle Atalla’s Thirsty Animals is a cracking novel that does the latter brilliantly. Atalla made a splash with her debut The Pharmacist last year, and this follow-up has a similar dystopian vibe, while being more expansive and accomplished. The story is set in a near-future Scotland which, due to climate change, is suffering a severe drought. Scotland is independent and receiving a big influx of refugees from England where conditions are much worse. Until, that is, the border is closed. Aida is a teenager living with her mother on the family farm near the border, as water becomes an incredibly valuable commodity and the rules of society crumble. 

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One day, strangers arrive at the farm. Aida and her mum treat them with suspicion but let them stay out of kindness. This escalates the story into thriller territory, and I won’t say any more about the plot here, for fear of spoilers. 

One of the great strengths of Thirsty Animals is Atalla’s consummate world building. Her near future is impeccably depicted on the page, and the way society slowly falls apart feels entirely believable. Margaret Atwood said she never made anything up for The Handmaid’s Tale, just transferred events from other parts of the world into a western country, and Thirsty Animals has the same feel. There are some scenes at the border later in the novel which are truly disturbing but entirely believable, given the treatment of refugees worldwide. Atalla knows how to ramp up tension expertly, and Thirsty Animals comes to a dramatic, unexpected but satisfying conclusion. This is a dark vision of a possible future, and all the more terrifying for that. 

Thirsty Animals cover

Thirsty Animals by Rachelle Atalla is out now (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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