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Dreamland by Rosa Rankin-Gee

Recommended by: Rhys Thomas - Regional Manager


Dreamland is simultaneously a skillfully-written and well-observed working-class family drama, an affecting and honest love story, and an insightful and timely exploration of social inequalities and injustices, all told against the backdrop of looming environmental disaster. If that sounds overwhelming, rest assured, Rankin-Gee masterfully controls all aspects of the narrative – deftly entwining the personal with the political, the grand sweep of momentous social and ecological change with the intensely personal. She also knows when to leaven the intensity with wry humour (parts of the book genuinely made me laugh out loud).

Dreamland is set in Margate, on the Isle of Thanet, in the near future – the town itself as much of a presence in the book as its protagonists and Thanet’s status as a peninsula, increasingly under threat of coastal erosion, becomes a pivotal concern.

At the story’s core is Chance, the narrator whom we follow from age four to her mid/late-teens, and the complex bonds formed between Chance and the people around her. There’s JD - the older brother that Chance dotes on – whose tendency to enthusiastically embrace any opportunity that comes his way threatens to lead him down a dangerous path. There’s Chance’s mother, whose determination to ensure a better life for her children is tested as the gradual fraying and then rapid unraveling of the world around them begins to wear away both her sense of self and her sense of self-worth.

There’s Davey – Chance’s best friend who’ll stick with her through thick and thin, and in whom she confides and shares everything (or does she?). Finally, there’s Kole and there’s Franky – the former a brooding, violent presence, the latter seemingly offering a form of escape and a reason to hope for a better future. As years pass and Chance matures, she learns how to make sense of the individuals and the wider society around her, even if the hardest lesson of all is that, as the surrounding landscape is testament to, nothing stays the same forever and transformation is inevitable.

I’ve deliberately left details of how the story unfolds as vague as I can because part of the joy of reading Dreamland is being carried along by the narrative and surprised by how it progressively (and expertly) incorporates different literary genres. The book has been likened to those by Margaret Atwood and Deborah Levy, to which I would add Naomi Alderman and Shuggie Bain as potential comps. In short, Dreamland really is quite a remarkable novel.

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An Evening Standard 'Best New Book' of 2021

For fans of Children of Men, Years and Years & Station Eleven, a postcard from a future Britain that’s closer than we think.

 ‘A beautiful book: thought-provoking, eerily prescient and very witty.’ Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half

'Water courses through its pages, as rising sea levels heighten inequalities, buoy populist politicians and wash away every certainty of civilisation. But there’s also the novel’s prose – its liquid grace and glinting sparkle – and the sheer irresistibility of a narrative that sweeps along with a force that feels tidal in its pull.' The Observer

''You said that you would come back. You looked me in the eye and said that. Well, if you had, this is what you would have seen: soft wood, black cracks, fridges in the road. The broken spines of old rides at Dreamland.'

In the coastal resort of Margate, hotels lie empty and sun-faded ‘For Sale’ signs line the streets. The sea is higher – it’s higher everywhere – and those who can are moving inland. A young girl called Chance, however, is just arriving.

 Chance’s family is one of many offered a cash grant to move out of London - and so she, her mother Jas and brother JD relocate to the seaside, just as the country edges towards vertiginous change. 

In their new home, they find space and wide skies, a world away from the cramped bedsits they’ve lived in up until now. But challenges swiftly mount. JD’s business partner, Kole, has a violent, charismatic energy that whirlpools around him and threatens to draw in the whole family. And when Chance comes across Franky, a girl her age she has never seen before – well-spoken and wearing sunscreen – something catches in the air between them. Their fates are bound: a connection that is immediate, unshakeable, and, in a time when social divides have never cut sharper, dangerous. 

Set in a future unsettlingly close to home, against a backdrop of soaring inequality and creeping political extremism, Rankin-Gee demonstrates, with cinematic pace and deep humanity, the enduring power of love and hope in a world spinning out of control.

'She vividly captures the balance between ferocity and vulnerability as the two girls explore their burgeoning desire; one minute they’re greedy for each other, the next they’re proceeding more gingerly. Theirs is a great first love, blazing bright and furious amid the poverty and the pain, the perfect counterweight that’s needed to make the novel sing. Dreamland brings us face-to-face with much of what we’re on the threshold of losing; nevertheless, it manages to convince us that its characters have everything still to live for.'  Guardian

A great coming-of-age story, and a warning.' Evening Standard

‘This brutal read has moments of hope and love but also serves as a hideous warning to fight for what’s right’ Daily Mail

‘Brilliantly bleak… this compelling novel is horribly plausible, chilling and feels like a warning that’s come too late.’ Daily Mirror 

Chance’s life is filled with poverty, crime, drugs and fear – until she meets Franky, a girl unlike anyone else she knows. Their relationship brings light and love...' Daily Express

'Rankin-Gee’s novel is a triumph, being as much a love letter to the heady ups and crashing lows of youthful entanglements as it is a paean to the former grandeur of its stark coastal setting. Read this now.' GQ

'A writer of a new time… A writer we will all want to read again and again.' Monique Roffey, author of the Costa Book of The Year The Mermaid of Black Conch 

“Dazzling and shattering" Nell Dunn, author of Up The Junction and Talking to Women

'The writing clings like sand. Unexpected turns of phrase have burrowed deep into the recesses of my brain. She has created a vivid, textural portrait, teeming with life and granular, sensory detail as well as wisdom. It does what the most haunting of apocalyptic novels do, which is to shine a light on what is already happening around us and ask that we wake up.' Olivia Sudjic, author of Asylum Road 

‘Entrancing… A dark and devastating funhouse ride through curtailed innocence and apocalyptic experience. And- most uniquely- a love letter to the waning magic and melancholy of British seaside towns.  It is its own twist on the lucid dystopias of Diane Cook, Kirsten Roupenian and Emily St John Mandel. The book is also deeply cinematic- I was reminded, throughout, of Terry Gilliam's waterlogged neo-noir fantasy Tideland, as well as the dreamy realism of the films of Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay.' Sharlene Teo, author of Ponti

'Rankin-Gee is a visionary empath. Every page of this book both broke my heart and made me laugh out loud. What a feat!' Jac Jemc, author of The Grip of It and False Bingo