The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

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.

4/5 Gripping.

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).

7 responses

  1. Pingback: So I made a really long list for the purposes of Stella predictions… | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  2. Actually, what I find reassuring is just how incompetent government is. The Covid App that cost billions hasn’t identified a single contact yet.
    The QR codes? Don’t get me started. The first time I saw one, the sign told me to scan it with my camera. I did. Nothing happened. But since I didn’t know then that something was supposed to happen, I just went in anyway.
    The second time was at a restaurant. Camera didn’t work, so I tried my QR code scanner that I usually use for a rewards program. Worked fine.
    But that didn’t work at Office works. Nothing worked there. They told me I needed to download the Vic Services App. So I did that, and tried it at my local café. No good, that needed the QR code scanner. It didn’t work at Bunnings today either, none of them did. The only place it’s worked so far is my local library but it doesn’t work at Bayside Library.
    What I’m doing is writing down where I’ve been using pencil and paper, and I keep my receipts from shops for 2 weeks in case I need to know what time I was there.
    But I know that most people aren’t doing that. People went in and out of Bunnings and Officeworks today without checking in, and I myself forgot at Spotlight.
    So I’m not very worried about government surveillance, they can’t even make it work when I’m cooperating with it!

  3. I think if you want to invent a genre or sub-genre go for your life. You’re the reader, so you get to define your reading experience.
    That said, I think ‘dystopian’ is the “it-could-happen-within-a-decade” sub-genre of SF, but authors (and publishers) try to distance themselves from the geekiness of SF.

  4. This sounds fascinating. And interesting that there would be so many connections to what we’re experiencing in the world right now. My kids love Hawaiian pizza too!

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