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Alex Roddie finds a compelling but uncomfortable read in a book full of grim truths 


The Activist by Alec Connon is a novel about the natural world and one young person’s fight to defend it. There’s a picture of a whale and a few spots of blood on the front cover, and your reaction to this will tell you a great deal about how you’ll react to the story. When you hear about whales, dolphins and sharks being slaughtered for food, do you shrug and think ‘not my problem’, or are you horrified and feel compelled to stop it? As Thomas Durant grows up, he moves from one end of this spectrum to the other. It’s the story of how an ordinary boy from a background like yours or mine becomes a committed environmental activist.

This core character, Thomas, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Much of the early part of the story is concerned with his upbringing, the hardships he endures, the little victories and defeats. He’s a young person learning to understand the moral framework of the world and trying to live in it – a messy process filled with conflict and contradictions. He develops a deep
appreciation of Scotland’s outdoors. This love of nature and wildlife gradually develops into a sense of responsibility, and the day comes when his conscience demands action.

The Activist brings the tragedy of the oceans to life in vivid colour. When Thomas goes to sea and witnesses the atrocities being perpetrated against whales and other marine life, I found myself learning a huge amount about issues that affect every single person on this planet. These issues go way beyond the plot of a novel. Harsh environmental truths are explored with sensitivity and urgency, and it takes a lot of skill to write effective fiction about such politically charged subjects.

This book makes for compelling but uncomfortable reading. Compelling because it’s well written, uncomfortable because it forces you to confront grim truths about humanity and our future.