Book review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

Saturday, October 17, 2020 Permalink

I must admit I hadn’t requested The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall for review. I hadn’t read the blurb so assumed it to be another book about a mother ‘losing’ a child or a child being hurt and – very literally – the mother being blamed, or at fault.

As someone without kids I struggle a bit with all of the books about parenthood and its highs and lows. But I kept hearing amazing things about this book so finally decided to give it a try. And I am soooo glad I did because I loved it and only later realised ‘fault’ was less about blame, than a geological reference. D’oh!

I’d read that it was very Margaret Atwood-like and while I’ve not enjoyed a lot of her recent books, this was very relatable. Many of the future changes Mildenhall refers to here are frighteningly feasible and less-distant than we probably realise.

Book review: The Mother Fault by Kate MildenhallThe Mother Fault
by Kate Mildenhall
Published by Simon & Schuster
on 02/09/2020
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1760854476
Pages: 336

Mim’s husband is missing. No one knows where Ben is, but everyone wants to find him – especially The Department. And they should know, the all-seeing government body has fitted the entire population with a universal tracking chip to keep them ‘safe’.

But suddenly Ben can’t be tracked. And Mim is questioned, made to surrender her passport and threatened with the unthinkable – her two children being taken into care at the notorious BestLife.

Cornered, Mim risks everything to go on the run to find her husband – and a part of herself, long gone, that is brave enough to tackle the journey ahead.

From the stark backroads of the Australian outback to a terrifying sea voyage, Mim is forced to shuck off who she was – mother, daughter, wife, sister – and become the woman she needs to be to save her family and herself.

Mildenhall kinda breaks the ‘show don’t tell’ rule by giving readers a run-down on events of the past decade or two and it’s done well and in a way that means we’re quickly up-to-date.

Her writing is just lovely and her words had me hooked immediately.

I found the kids, particularly Essie, very engaging and very real. I might have missed it but wasn’t sure initially how old the kids were so lacked a little context in terms of what Mim felt she could or couldn’t tell them about their father’s whereabouts. But it’s something she ponders… how much of what’s happening is her burden to bear alone; and we learn she and Ben have tried to keep any contrary thoughts regarding government and the direction of society from their children.

I liked the background of disharmony in Mim’s own family and felt it grounded the novel. It could happen at any time. Families differing on the way family businesses are run, the younger generation taking over, how power is endowed upon them and how the older generation continue to play a role and are acknowledged for all that they have done.

We learn Mim struggled after giving birth to her daughter and wished her family had been more supportive. I wasn’t sure if Mildenhall was referring to post-natal depression here, Mim’s loss of her sense of self, or something deeper to do with the ‘new world’ that I’d missed…

She had thought herself immovable. She and Ben both, before Essie. The naivety of it stings now, but they had spoken of a shared workload, both working, both in projects they were passionate about, both taking time off to parent.

But then.

The cataclysmic arrival that had begun moderately enough, but finally left Mim a fragmented version of herself. She couldn’t even remember all the pieces to gather back up to remake herself. There was Before Essie. And After. p 154

I also really liked the setting – the time, place and world in which Mildenhall has set this. I know little about climate change issues, free trade agreements and many of the things that are raised here, including the impact of mining and idea of extraction versus exploration. I note Mildenhall’s Acknowledgements mention her being impacted by the plight of refugees and those whom no one will help. I probably didn’t get as big a sense of that stateless issue here; for me it was very much about the authoritarian Australian government’s all-powerful reach and loss of personal freedoms.

The only part of the novel of which I probably wasn’t convinced was around the plot – ie. Mim’s decision to travel to Indonesia to find her husband. I was shocked she seemed to only later realise she’d risked so much when she had no idea of his fate; and the logic-lover in me couldn’t quite work what she thought would happen (in terms of repercussions) ‘after’. It felt a haphazard. But of course I recognise that it’s a different world and the literal ‘journey’ Mim is on with her kids and the risk to their lives, reminds her of what she has rather than what she’s lost in terms of her life and career.

She keeps confusing the things she should be protecting them from. p 286

This is a really thought-provoking book by Mildenhall and I think it’s one I’ll ponder for some time. I was reminded in some ways of Heather Rose’s Bruny and some of the warning bells it proffered we readers. One can only hope it comes to the attention of enough decision makers, or we’ll have to ensure people power is enough.

The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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