Book Review: ‘In Ascension’ by Martin MacInnes

A Journey Through Family, Waterways, and the Mysteries of the Future


Book Title: In Ascension
Author: Martin MacInnes
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Number of Pages: 512
ISBN: 978-1838956240
Date Published: Feb. 2, 2023
Price: INR 1,575

In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

Book Review

In Martin MacInnes’s third novel, “In Ascension,” the story unfolds in Rotterdam, approximately a decade into the future. Within this city, the readers meet Leigh-Ann Hasenbosch and her sister, Helena, both the daughters of Geert, an engineer employed by the venerable Dutch water board, the Waterschappen. With its centuries-old history, this organization is profoundly responsible for the country’s survival. Geert’s wife, Fenna, is a brilliant mathematician, a figure who, while emotionally reserved and devoid of physical displays of affection, contends with debilitating migraines. These chronic ailments and Geert’s tumultuous episodes of violence cast a lasting shadow over the sisters’ formative years.

When you finish a book, there are those rare reading experiences and you can’t resist returning to the first page to begin the journey anew. “In Ascension” is magnetic, drawing you back into its compelling narrative and complex characters. Its subject matter is profound, and the characters are so deeply etched that you can’t help but want to see how it all weaves together a second time.

In Ascension” is divided into five sections and begins with the story of Dr. Leigh-Ann Hasenbosch, a Rotterdam-based marine microbiologist. Nonetheless, this work resists easy classification within any genre for various compelling reasons. On the one hand, it delves into science fiction territory with portrayals of deep-sea research and intergalactic travel. However, it goes beyond these limitations by diving into philosophical, ontological, and linguistic investigations regarding nature and the heart of humanity. It also offers a significant reflection on family relationships and the complexities of sisterhood, making it resistant to simple genre categorization. Notably, the author rejects the title ‘climate-change fiction,’ which has been applied to it by others.

The narrative commences with Leigh’s introduction of her unconventional family. Her father, Geert, initially aspiring to be an architect, found himself as a hydraulic engineer and advisor for Waterschappen, a regional water board. In contrast, Fenna, her reclusive mother, who Leigh suspects may exaggerate her migraine symptoms, is a mathematician. Completing the family portrait is Helen, Leigh’s younger sister, adding further layers of complexity to the familial dynamics.

In Ascension” is a captivating story that delves into the vastness of time and space, focusing on the intricate connections between all life. The story is centered around Leigh, a scientist with a deep affinity for Earth’s biodiversity, whose work takes her to the furthest depths of the ocean and outer space. The story explores the origins of life, the reasons for our existence, the fragility of our environment, and the consequences of unfettered capitalism.

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Leigh’s transformation and exploration of the unknown are deeply engaging, and the story takes unexpected turns, shifting perspectives and challenging our trust in the narrator. The narrative feels circular, inviting readers to float within the character’s consciousness as the vastness of life, time, and the world unfolds. It offers answers and a conclusive ending, leaving readers with a sense of wonder and a book worth revisiting.

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