Is there a sub-genre of dystopian fiction called ‘it-could-happen-within-a-decade-dsytopian-and-that’s-why-it’s-terrifying’? If so, it’s my favourite sub-genre. And we can file The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall there.
Without revealing too much of the story, it’s about a woman named Mim, whose husband Ben is missing. Everyone wants to find Ben, particularly The Department (the all-seeing government body who has fitted the entire population with a universal tracking chip in the palm of their hand to keep them ‘safe’). When Ben can’t be tracked, Mim is questioned; made to surrender her passport and those of their children, Essie and Sam; and is threatened with being taken into ‘care’ at the notorious BestLife (which is essentially a branded detention centre). Mim goes on a risky quest to find Ben.
Had I not read this book in the middle of a pandemic it might not have been quite so frightening. But I did, and the barrows pushed by the fictional Department and the purpose of BestLife felt uncomfortably familiar.
Unprecedented. Again. The word has lost its meaning.
Huh. So true for Mim. So true for everyone right now.
The book focuses on government control, and its all-pervasiveness. Some measures were blatant, such as being micro-chipped, and the existance of Omni (a more evolved version of Alexa or Siri). However, it was the less obvious but equally insidious detail that was the most interesting – the delivery of mandatory news bulletins to every single person; the lack of free media; the way drug addiction was managed (‘imprisonment’ at BestLife) and the children’s unquestioning acceptance of the digital elements of their lives. You are forced to consider how close these things are to our current world… the media parts made me feel sick, perhaps because I’m fed up with Herald Sun headlines.
Also fascinating was Mildenhall’s well thought out effects of climate change. Again, the small details had impact – the idea that Hawaiian pizza was a treat because meat is a luxury; that only those living in areas considered to have a hot climate are authorized to have swimming pools; and that yacht clubs are watery museums on the bottom of the sea.
I couldn’t put this book down. Like any story with a suspense/thriller element, you know the direction you’re likely to be taken. Much of the main narrative arc of The Mother Fault is predictable but there are surprises (particularly right at the end), and the detail in Mildenhall’s imagined world makes this story incredibly compelling.
The kids were thrilled by the prospect of Hawaiian pizza (and yes, pineapple does belong on pizza, and I’ll hear nothing to the contrary).