With all the rain we’ve been subjected to over the last few months, you could be forgiven for thinking we are heading towards a version of Martine McDonagh’s vision of the future as portrayed in I Have Waited.. With rising sea levels and wild weather as the catalyst for our demise, Mcdonagh sets her near-future post-apocalyptic tale in the water-logged Cheshire countryside, a place I know well, having lived in that area for over 10 years some time back.
Rachel lives alone in a fortified mill in the parkland surrounding Dunham Massey. The mill and its grounds were adapted by her ex-partner Jason to cope with the extreme weather and to keep out unwanted visitors. Jason left Rachel before the story begins. He is never present, but ever-present as the architect of this necessary prison. The local communities have been decimated, the landscape ravaged and buildings abandoned. Rachel is isolated geographically and mentally, but as she admits early on:
I can imagine nothing worse than living in a community. Nothing and no one could persuade me to leave my island.
Her solitary lifestyle, with very little stimulation and almost no contact with others has led her to lead a life of apathy punctuated by long periods of sleep. She has lost all self dignity, doesn’t wash, change her clothes or look after her home. Her solitary confinement and lack of purpose is making her lose her mind. But this book is narrated by Rachel, so it is only really when she comes into contact with others that you see she may well be losing it.
Rachel soon comes to the attention of a sinister stalker, who not only watches her from the edge of the parkland, but lures her to meetings in places wilder than her own mill (I know McDonagh took liberties with some of the geography for these parts of the story as she explains in the Q&A at the back, but I read that afterwards and therefore scoffed at the idea of making it from Dunham to Alderley Edge or Edale in 20 minutes or under – sorry that’s the map lover in me coming out!). Despite the creepiness of her stalker, his appearance gives Rachel purpose and drive. For the first time in a long time she has a task to focus her mind; to find out who this man is and where he lives.
Part environmental disaster story, part psychological thriller McDonagh has cleverly created a tale of isolation and survival while ramping up the menace caused by the weather, the unknown watcher and the sinister A Handmaid’s Tale type community trying to persuade Rachel to live with them. Rachel is a survivor, but she has a vulnerability which makes her plausible.
As a young girl I liked to venture into the quietest darkest places at night, in search of fear. But the dark never scared me; it would wrap itself around me like the arm of an old friend. The more I sought to scare myself the more protected I felt. Things are changing.
I rarely say this about books but I felt I Have Waited.. was perhaps 30 – 50 pages too short. I understand the appeal of a pared down, sparse story, especially with this subject matter; the writing reflects the environment Rachel finds herself in and her isolation. But I just felt there were a couple of unanswered questions that could have made the book feel slightly more complete, in my mind anyway. Then again, that is what speculative fiction is about; creating ideas and letting the reader fill in some of the gaps.
This book was originally published in 2006 and re-released in 2012. Martine Mcdonagh publishes her second book After Phoenix this week.
Thanks to Annabel at Annabel’s House of Books for sending me this edition as part of her Blog Birthday last year.