Clade by James Bradley
James Bradley’s new novel has been eagerly awaited. The wait has been well worth it – Clade is the first book I’ve read in 2015 and I’m already wondering how many literary prizes it will win. Clade consists of ten complete stories, or chapters, following the Leith family from the present day to a frightening but possibly realistic future.
As the book opens, Adam and Ellie are trying to conceive. Ellie pursues IVF treatment in their home city of Sydney while Adam, a scientist, keeps in touch from a remote station in Antarctica. While he waits to hear whether she is pregnant, he listens intently to the creaks and groans of the ice – a shifting of land into sea and an indication of fast moving global warming.
In the next chapter, their daughter Summer is a toddler and Ellie appears to be suffering from depression. The fissures in the marital relationship are deepening while the physical landscape of the world includes changing monsoonal patterns in Asia, and limited power and blackouts in Sydney. As Summer grows up in this environment she becomes wary, and, like many of her generation, unsure of her future in a world where jobs, relationships and technologies are arbitrary and changing.
Gradually, Clade reveals more of what our future might look like. Despite its apocalyptic overtones, the stories are told in a personal and moving way. The family grows over the space of about 100 years to encompass others – an autistic boy, an orphaned Chinese teenager, a refugee.
Clade is carefully constructed and beautifully written. There may be some debate about whether it is a linked story collection or a novel, but nevertheless, the result is outstanding. It reminded me of Steven Amsterdam’s brilliant Things We Didn’t See Coming, with nuanced personal relationships like those created by Alice Munro or Elizabeth Strout.
Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.