Dreamland is a novel about inequality, family, and the way society could go, set in a near-future Margate. Chance, her brother, and her mum move to Margate after being offered money to leave London, where they were living in a series of temporary accommodation. The sea is meant to be a fresh start for them, but the waters are rising, and the new politicians have found some new ways to deal with run-down areas.
Rosa Rankin-Gee takes the reality of the present and pushes a few threads towards further extremes to build the backdrop of this novel, in which local areas must fend for themselves and there’s no help from central government (with an author’s note at the end highlighting the current policies that make this vision of the future not so far fetched). What we see is a grim existence, in which Chance and others in Margate have to adapt to things like blackouts and huge waves and flooding whilst newly powerful politicians plot what to do with deprived areas. The everyday reality might seem shocking, but the wider decisions that got places there is not.
We see everything through Chance’s perspective, from her dealing with what happens to her brother and when his business partner Kole comes on the scene to her sudden connection to Franky, a girl who seems linked to the outsiders from London who try and offer help to the community. The narrative covers quite a few years, sometimes moving at a fast pace and sometimes a slower one, and you can’t help being drawn into the characters’ lives and becoming frustrated and angry at what happens. As with other ‘dystopian’ type books, there’s a point later in the novel when Chance reads about the plans the government used and it becomes clear that policies are not accidental, but part of horrific larger strategies, and this serves as a good reminder that this isn’t a near-future based on ‘chance’, but on choices.
An up-to-date (there’s references to the pandemic) near-future novel about the housing crisis, social welfare, and climate change that feels very immediate, Dreamland shows where division and individualistic thinking can get society, whilst at the same time showing a protagonist just trying to survive. There are moments of hope, a pivotal love story that hinges on class and privilege, and a sense of being able to fight, but this is also a grim vision of a future to be avoided at all costs.