Unsheltered

Clare Moleta

Unsheltered
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Unsheltered

Clare Moleta

Relentlessly propulsive and profoundly moving, Unsheltered taps into some of our worst fears and most implacable motivations, marking the emergence of a fully-formed and urgent literary voice.


Against a background of social breakdown and destructive weather, Unsheltered tells the story of a woman’s search for her daughter. Li never wanted to bring a child into a world like this but now that eight-year-old Matti is missing, she will stop at nothing to find her.

As she crosses the great barren country alone and on foot, living on what she can find and fuelled by visions of her daughter just out of sight ahead, Li will have every instinct tested. She knows the odds against her: an uncompromising landscape, an uncaring system, time running out, and the risks of any encounters on the road. But her own failings and uncertainty might be the greatest obstacle of all. Because even if she finds her, how can she hope to shield Matti from the future?

At times tender, at times terrifying, Unsheltered is an engrossing, unpredictable novel that keeps the reader in suspense all the way to the end. A brilliant feat of imagination that asks if our humanity is the only protection we have left, Unsheltered will affect you in ways a book hasn’t done in years.

Review

In a landscape rent by an undefined climate catastrophe, societal breakdown and possible armed conflict, a network of refugee camps, settlements and supply stations house what remains of humankind. Though it has echoes of the Australian terrain, the land beyond the camps remains a largely hostile environment for its inhabitants. Li’s eight-year-old daughter Matti is out there somewhere.

For Li, on a perilous journey across the uncertain country in search of Matti, obstacles and challenges are a constant: shortages of water, food and medical supplies are twinned with the threat of epidemics and illnesses. The determination and fortitude of Li and the survivors who aid her search offer fleeting glimpses of optimism, despite the hardships they all face. In this barren environment, the rare sense of humanity between survivors is a crucial lifeline. The stakes are raised as time progresses; as Li’s search for Matti draws on, her anxiety and uncertainty regarding her daughter’s survival is transferred to the reader.

The suspense and tension created by debut author Clare Moleta is of the stressful, teeth-clenching variety, as you will Li across the dystopic wasteland. Will she make it? Will they both make it? Yet, for all the bleakness of this book – and by Jove, it is bleak – this novel is a tour de force. Moleta’s writing is superb, offering readers a vivid and wholly unsettling picture of what may befall future generations. As I read this book, the soundtrack my brain offered me was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: at times harrowing and relentless, yet ultimately engrossing. This is a sensational debut from a new writer now based in Aotearoa, and a great addition to the growing climate-fiction canon. Read this if you loved Weather, The Glad Shout, Parable of the Sower or The Road.


Julia Jackson is the assistant shop manager at Readings Carlton.

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