The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson
This book is rather like one of these slightly more upmarket chocolates. It has a thick outer layer and something completely different as a filling. As to the wrapping, it’s always interesting to watch the wheel turn. When I was younger, I cut my teeth on books like The Drowned World by J G Ballard with an increase in solar radiation melting the polar ice caps and flooding the low-lying ground. In those heady days of excited speculation, global catastrophe or apocalypse science fiction was in vogue with everything from alien invasions to our own nuclear wars sending us back to the Stone Age with a flick of the author’s pen. If we move across the Channel and into more modern times, we have books like Le Monde Enfin by Jean-Pierre Andrevon with a pandemic striking humanity down, and the spectacularly long series titled La Compagnie des Glaces by Georges-Jean Arnaud with climate change caused by the destruction of the moon to the fore — first we freeze in ninety-eight volumes then, in a mere twenty-four volumes, we melt — if you missed the books, there’s a chance to catch up with the video games, graphic novels, French-Canadienne television adaptation and a different but parallel Japanese anime series, Overmanキングゲイナー, which also explores the problems caused by monopoly control of the transport system.
Why, you ask, should people in different cultures be so interested in actual or potential extinction events? The answer, I suppose, is because they operate high up on the scale of awesomeness (in the American sense of shock and awe). We pass rapidly beyond one or two people finding it a problem to survive, say, an increase in wind velocity, and wipe out countries no matter what their political allegiance. Or, along strictly nationalist lines, we can give payback for past slights. I’m reminded of US criticism of France under the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin for failing to prevent more people from dying in a heat wave. It’s therefore understandable the US should be the first country to feel the wrath of nature in The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson (Le French Book, 2013) originally titled Groenland and translated by Julie Rose. Serves those climate sceptics right, says I.
In the best Gallic tradition, this section of the book is magnificently melodramatic. Even in translation, you can feel the enthusiasm of the author shining through as he channels the emotion of the moments as global warming causes a major slippage of ice and land into the sea. Yes, Greenland is less than it was before it cracked in half. Dumping that amount of solid and meltable material into the sea at high velocity causes a tsunami to die for (sorry, the preposition should be from) and before you can say Jacques Robinson, water levels are rising fast. These damn oceans are just so interconnected in this internet age. If you fill up one, the water must find its own level. Because this is a Francocentric book, we’re really only interested in what the French oil and minerals industry was doing before the crack appeared, and what the various official spy agencies and unofficial operatives do afterwards. À bas les autres pays. Quel domage! — which, loosely translated means other low-lying countries get flooded first, ha ha!
So as an extrapolation, we have the polar region melting and throwing out an increasing volume of methane which could cause a major shift in climate, i.e. the warmer bits of the Earth go cool and the polar regions heat up. As this area melts, it could uncover large deposits of rare earths. That would have major strategic importance, breaking the market dominance of the Chinese. As this novel unwinds, Canada is claiming these deposits using the Continental Shelf Doctrine. And that’s where the espionage filling comes in. Once we have the context, we’re swept up into a mystery style investigation built around the unfolding catastrophe. The action moves through the death of a key executives of one of the companies exploring for natural resources on the icepack, to excitement in France, on to a ship that barely survived the tsunami, and back on to the ice as lakes start to form and methane bubbles up to the surface. Tension builds as life and death struggles occur and the identity of those behind the looming conspiracy is slowly revealed.
The Greenland Breach is a novel of considerable flair and panache which starts with a major environmental event and then skillfully switches focus to the ravages of human greed as plots are laid and manipulations executed (in every sense of the word). With this combination of flavours, the novel hits the sweet spot of enjoyment.
The Greenland Breach was published in paperback on April 30, 2014.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.