The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall
Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel, Skylarking, found many fans at Readings. With her second novel, The Mother Fault, Mildenhall is sure to cement herself as a reader favourite. While the two novels are very different, both are memorable for unusual predicaments, evocative depictions of place, and characters that linger in the mind.
Set in a climate-crisis altered yet still very recognisable Australia in the near future, The Mother Fault is the story of Mim. A formerly tenured geologist, Mim is considering returning to her field of expertise, having stepped away from that career some years earlier in order to shoulder the bulk of her family’s parenting and household responsibilities. It’s a decision with which Mim is still reckoning now that her children are aged eleven and six. Meanwhile, her environmentally conscious FIFO engineer husband, Ben, works in Indonesia at a mine operated by Australia and China. Ben’s role there is to minimise environmental damage, but this acknowledged paradox is significant.
Mim’s comfortable, microchipped life in outer Melbourne is abruptly derailed when Ben disappears from the mine and his personal chip cannot be traced. One minute, Mim’s biggest daily worries are tween angst and eyerolls from her contemporaries at the school gate when she cuts too close to the morning drop-off time once again, the next, representatives from The Department (the alternative government that has been in power for some years) are drinking tea in her home and ‘offering support’ by confiscating passports.
This riveting novel has everything: a daring, desperate adventure across land and sea; impossible familial choices; a dangerous rebellion against a glossy, draconian regime; an unexpected romance from the past bolting with tension in the present; encrypted international communications with a dogged journalist on the scent of an earth-shattering scoop; children’s milestones blithely ticking over with all the incumbent emotional collateral despite the strangest of circumstances; loyalty exacting an unbearable price – and more. If this all sounds a bit melodramatic, rest assured the true power of this novel is in its appalling plausibility. That, and the fact that it is impossible to put down.