The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is the second book I read by Richard Flanagan. I first heard of Richard Flanagan back in 2017, before going on a trip to Australia. In preparation for that holiday I wanted to read books by Australian authors, and The Narrow Road to the Deep North (my review) was one of them.

State Library Victoria, Melbourne. This book became a WanderBook, I hope it enjoys its time in Australia

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams in a nutshell

The book tells the story of Anna and her two brothers, middle-aged adults living in Australia and Tasmania. They are taken out of the daily routine when their mother, aged 87, gets very ill and she is caught between her body’s desire to die and her children’s determination that she lives.

But there is also a higher level sickness, situated in the background of the story – the sickness of Earth. Land burning, species of animals disappearing. The story takes place during the massive Australian bushfires from 2019-2020.

Overall impression

I have mixed feelings about this book. While I cannot say I loved it, I am glad I read it. It is a moving story, not easy to read. The theme of the book is saddening – sickness of family members and of Earth. We read about the everyday family tragedy, but also about the global tragedy that we are witnessing in real life.

Flanagan manages to transmit powerful emotions (anger, grief) – this story had an impact on me while reading the it. The narrative style, at times similar to streams of consciousness, contributed to a very direct and powerful transmission of the emotions. It is definitely not a book for fans of action-oriented stories.

I think each bubble from the book cover has a special meaning. For example, the green one represents the orange-bellied parrot, an endangered species. The reddish one represents the fires.

Our house is on fire

The story reminded me so many times of the messages transmitted by Greta Thunberg, the well-known young climate activist. “Our house is on fire” – yes, Australia was literally on fire during the summer of 2019-2020.

“If humans were changing the world’s climate [..] we would not be talking about anything else. But no one talked about it” – there is a very interesting metaphor in the book exactly for this point. The world is vanishing, but nobody talks about the elephant in the room.


The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is about grief, anger, and a vanishing world. A slow but sure collapse. It is one of the most anchored to reality fiction books I read in a while, and also one of the most touching and surreal stories.

Have you read any books by Richard Flanagan? I’d love to hear your thoughts about them!

If you would like to buy books or other (non)bookish things, please consider using one of these links: Amazon | Waterstones | Carturesti. Thank you!

‘Till next time … happy reading!


PS: I received a digital copy of this book in January 2021 at my request, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. My review expresses my own thoughts about the story and it is not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. The book was published on 14th of January 2021.

2 thoughts on “The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (book review) – Australia’s bushfires, anger, grief, and a vanishing world

    1. That would be wonderful! I’d also love to do that, but until now I only managed with Australia. When I think about travelling to Africa South America … those cultures have so much to offer in terms of literature and travelling also ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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