Emergency is a spooling, intimate novel about slow violence and the permeability of all living things. The narrator, self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, looks back on her childhood in a rural Yorkshire village in the 1990s. She recalls rambles through neighbours’ living rooms, fields and the local wood, and reflects on encounters with grazing cattle, the decline of industry and the birth of computer culture. From there the narrative flows across the globe, from Yorkshire to Texas and a Nicaraguan banana plantation, via digressions on microplastics and Michael Jackson’s 1996 Brit Awards performance. This synthesis is at times bizarre, but the novel coheres with the deliberateness of a well-told anecdote.
In its rich attentiveness, Hildyard’s environmental novel gracefully sidesteps the preachiness that often bogs down ecofiction. The rural community at the novel’s centre is not fetishised. ‘It wasn’t pastoral,’ the narrator explains. ‘I did not know anybody who retailed local folklore or knew the weeds by nicknames, there