In Michel Faber’s novel The Book of Strange New Things (2014), a Christian missionary called Peter travels to a faraway planet called Oasis to spread the word of god to an earnest population of alien beings. While away, he receives emails from his wife, Bea, at home in the UK. As Peter feels increasingly settled in Oasis, Bea’s news from home takes a turn for the uncanny and ultimately terrifying. Britain and the Earth are in trouble: her messages lists a series of natural calamities across the globe, from freak weather to volcanic eruptions, to the complete disappearance of the Maldives into the Indian Ocean. ‘Stay where you are,’ Bea writes in her last message. I was forcefully reminded of Faber’s novel by recent events in Mexico and the Caribbean. The images coming out of Puerto Rico, where I was born and where my mother still lives, show an island that, more often than not beset by drought, is now drowning and on its knees. I want to go back, but I can’t go back, not while flights are cancelled and there is an indefinite curfew in place.
Two days after the Brexit vote, a woman in Barnsley, with a tear in her eye, told Channel 4 News that her ‘parents and grandparents fought for England to be free and it was about time we came back to be free.’ The referendum allowed for the inflation of a rhetoric that the people of the United Kingdom have no right to employ. The insufferable Nigel Farage suggested that 23 June should be celebrated as the UK’s ‘independence day’. When was the last time the British were colonised? At which point in the history of colonialism were the British the enslaved rather than the slavers? Unhomely post-referendum England has made me think of home, the place I haven’t lived since I was 18 years old.