The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall
Harper Collins, hb, £11.39
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Australia of the future is ruled by The Department, the all-seeing, all-knowing government. The Department controls all aspects of life and monitors citizens through chip implants. People struggling with addiction, debt, or mental health problems are put in Bestlife mini towns, never to leave. Mim has never questioned this. Like the rest of the country, she has sleepwalked into this life of complete control until her husband goes missing while working abroad. Instead of looking for her husband, The Department make Mim sign non-disclosure forms, confiscate her passports and threaten to remove her children from her if she disobeys them. With no friends or choice, Mim takes her children on the run, searching for her husband and the reason for his mysterious disappearance.
The Mother Fault is the story of a woman who takes her children on the run to escape from a controlling government when her husband goes missing in China. Mim must juggle her role as a mother with her wifely fear for her husband, and the whole situation is made worse because she is estranged from her family, so she has no one she can turn to.
Mildenhall gradually reveals The Department’s level of control during the first couple of chapters as Mim struggles to come to terms with Ben’s unexplained absence. The slow but steady reveal builds tension because it is plausible, particularly with today’s political dissatisfaction. People wanted a different type of politics, and One Department for One Nation stepped in to provide it. Amid mess shootings, bank hacks, bio-threats, and a changing climate, every rule brought in made sense to the populace. They didn’t realise they had entered a Big Brother State until it was too late. The first third of the book was gripping and tense, but unfortunately, this element doesn’t last very long.
The second section follows Mim’s escape from Australia by travelling across-country and then over the sea. Mim reflects on her life and the beauty of her new freedom, and the change of pace shifts the story. It becomes one of survival against the elements as they must contend with a sudden storm on the crossing and the incapacitation of their captain. The sci-fi element takes a back seat to survival but doesn’t quite live up to the established tension.
Also, we are led to believe that without the implants and ID cards, Australians can’t do anything. However, once on the run, Mim has very little trouble getting hold of or using cash instead of her bank card. Whenever she does meet someone in authority who could have her arrested, she tells a lie about where her card is and escapes.
As I don’t deal in spoilers, I won’t give away much of the ending except to say I felt it was rushed. After the fantastic start and the lengthy middle, the conclusion was over so quickly you could miss it. Even though I empathised with some elements of her situation, I found Mim unrelatable, and the ending didn’t change that. I was disappointed because my curiosity about how it would end carried me through the middle section, and I didn’t feel my patience was rewarded.
Although I found the story confused at times, is it dystopian sci-fi or survival, and inconsistent with the purported danger and Mim’s behaviour, the bits I enjoyed were beautifully written, meaning I would read other work from Mildenhall.