John Sturgis

Ten novels about flooding

Tales of watery ruin

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty)

Shropshire was named this week as an unlikely entrant in the top ten global dream travel destinations for 2024 – alongside more predictable contenders like Mauritius. This news received extensive media coverage, most of which featured serene, summery images of Ironbridge, the Georgian engineering marvel that is the county’s most recognisable attraction. There was something wonderfully British about the fact that, at the very moment this story appeared, Ironbridge itself was at the centre of flood defence efforts to stop the swollen River Severn bursting its banks.

The ruin that floods can bring has plagued mankind since the earliest settlements

Thankfully, those Ironbridge defences held firm but after days of torrential rain, things didn’t work out so favourably for other parts of the country. Tens of thousands of homes were inundated with water, dozens of cars were washed away. The ruin that floods can bring has plagued mankind since the earliest settlements and consequently written accounts of flooding are as old as literature itself. There are depictions in Gilgamesh, the world’s first substantive narrative, which in turn informed the Old Testament’s Noah’s ark episode. 

This was later parodied by Chaucer in The Miller’s Tale – in which a priapic lodger attempts to cuckold his host by convincing him a biblical flood is imminent and that he should prepare for the worst, allowing the student opportunity to seduce his wife. This kind of ungentlemanly conduct deserves stiff punishment – which does eventually arrive in the form of a red hot poker applied to the lustful lodger.

Although flooding is a menace, it can be enjoyed. This is providing one is tucked up safely in a warm, dry room with, perhaps, a fire on, a glass of red wine – and a good book… rather than ankle deep in water in one’s own kitchen. The following then are suggestions of what that good book might be.

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