Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Literary


by (author) Christine Lai

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
May 2023
Literary, Dystopian, Cultural Heritage
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2023
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


A darkly absorbing, prismatic debut novel from Christine Lai, set in a near future that is fraught with ecological collapse and geopolitical upheaval, Landscapes explores memory, empathy, and art as an instrument for recollection and renewal.

In a ruinous country house in the now barren English countryside--decimated by heat and drought--and in a dusty library damaged by earthquake and floods, Penelope archives what remains of the estate’s once notable, now diminished, art collection. As she delves into the objects and images, she also keeps a diary of her final months in the dilapidated estate that has been her home for two decades and a refuge for those who have been displaced by disasters. Out of necessity, Penelope and her partner, Aidan, have sold the house and with its scheduled demolition comes this pressing task of building the archive. But with it also comes the impending arrival of Aidan’s brother, Julian, who will return to have one final look at his childhood home. Penelope suffered at the hands of Julian twenty-two years ago during a brief but violent relationship, and as his visit looms large over her, she finds herself unable to tamp down the past in her efforts to build a possible, if uncertain, future.

In this elegiac and spellbinding blend of narrative, essay and diary, Penelope’s past, present and future collide as fear and loss close in around her, and she clings to art as a means of understanding, of survival, and of reckoning. Recalling the works of Rachel Cusk and Kazuo Ishiguro, Landscapes is an evocative reinvention of the pastoral and the country house novel for our age of catastrophe, and announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new writer.

About the author

Contributor Notes

CHRISTINE LAI grew up in Canada and lived in England for six years during graduate studies. She holds a PhD in English Literature from University College London. Landscapes was shortlisted for the inaugural Novel Prize, offered by New Directions Publishing, Fitzcarraldo Editions, and Giramondo Publishing. Christine currently lives in Vancouver.

Editorial Reviews

"For all its eerily ephemeral worldbuilding, its quiet ruined setting, Landscapes is a raw-nerve of a novel. In a love letter to and elegy for disappearing art in a disappearing world, Christine Lai has managed to lay bare the mechanics of loss, both personal and communal. The result is a masterful inspection of what it means to live through decay, to grasp, amidst so much loss, the unreliable lifeboat of memory. A transcendent, achingly beautiful debut." —Omar El Akkad, author of What Strange Paradise and American War

"This is an extraordinary work—a contemplative novel set in a postapocalyptic landscape, that meditates on painting, specifically J.M.W Turner's ruins. The diary running through, both archiving the past as well as cataloguing the natural world, is reminiscent of Marlen Haushofer's The Wall as well as Derek Jarman's gardening journals, in their devastation and slow beauty. Christine Lai's exquisite speculative fiction as art criticism should be read alongside Aysegül Savaş, Amina Cain, Maria Gainza and Judith Schalansky." —Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts and The Light Room

"A marvelous, deeply intelligent novel about art, and ruins, and loss—and the stubborn, beautiful human urge to never give up. Christine Lai's Landscapes shimmers in the mind's eye, long after the last page has been turned. Wonderful." —Steven Price, author of By Gaslight and Lampedusa

"Gentle and wise, intimate and atmospheric, elegant and impressionistic, at the center of Landscapes is a question that is almost always on my mind now. What do we do with art, with beauty, in a time of crisis and collapse?" —Amina Cain, author of Indelicacy

"A haunting, hypnotic novel that collapses the distances between violence and beauty, horror and longing, art and decay. I was completely absorbed in its nuanced, atmospheric world, at once familiar and menacingly strange, and I am astonished by Christine Lai's vision." —Ayşegül Savaş, author of White on White and Walking on the Ceiling

"This is a novel engaged in inventive, intelligent, challenging conversation with the literature of the past, while presenting a clear-eyed and prescient vision of the future. Lai writes gorgeously of transience and decay, capturing the aesthetic ecstasy and redemptive power of art while interrogating its role in a crumbling and unjust world. A bold and rewarding debut." --Kim Fu, author of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century

"A powerful meditation on the aliveness of art, and the myriad ways in which our most meaningful experiences coalesce in the world of things. Set in a world falling to ruin, Lai deftly conjures a prismatic lens through which the consequences of obsession and neglect can be viewed. An elegant novel with an urgent undertow, Landscapes is a potent reminder of what it means to be a custodian: of the planet, of our own creations, and of each other. An impressive debut from a singular voice, Landscapes is a rewarding read­—as resonant and tonally rich as the works by Turner that haunt its core." —Aislinn Hunter, author of The Certainties

"In deft movements triangulating possession, loss and memory, Lai's meditative accounting of lives and culture in violent displacement and ruination feels like a witnessing of our probable path through the years ahead, in which all may be uncertain but the human will to repair and rebuild." —Pitchaya Sudbanthad, author of Bangkok Wakes to Rain

"Christine Lai's Landscapes is a haunting archive of the long-gone, the broken and the soon-to-be-lost—a study in disintegration—but also, simultaneously, a heady page-turner about beauty and community and, through these, hope. A startling and beautiful debut." —Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First

"In an apocalyptic future that feels eerily familiar in its prescience, two characters, their pasts woven together and marked by an act of unspeakable violence, make their way back together across space and time, their memories mediated through observations about art, music and architecture. . . . Landscapes is a propulsive read that teems with tension and pathos. With captivating and crystalline prose, Lai weaves art criticism, feminist theory and epistolary writing to maximum effect, the result a work that is haunting, prismatic and utterly engrossing. Stunningly brilliant and intricately observed, Landscapes is an astonishing debut." —Jasmine Sealy, author of The Island of Forgetting

"An exquisite debut about art and desire, love and deceit, reminiscent of A.S. Byatt in its richly researched and deeply compelling story and prose." —Lee Henderson, author of Disintegration in Four Parts