Review: Clade by James Bradley

This book is the last of my university reading for this term. It’s been an up and down collection of things I’ve loved and things I didn’t get on with. Fortunately for a last book, Clade was interesting and surprising.

It follows scientist Adam Leith, beginning while he is working in Antarctica and his partner Ellie back in Australia is waiting for their latest IVF treatment results. Each section jumps between perspectives, using both third and first person, in present tense except for sections which fill in backstory. There is a lot of story layering in the first few chapters, of backstory interspersed with the present moment, which creates an interestingly textured narrative. Every aspect of this novel is layered and faceted – everything has a meaning, an impact beyond the surface level.

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The central arc of the book follows a near-future vision of climate collapse. This is not a single destructive event, in the way of disaster films, but a series of progressively worse events, a continuous process. In later chapters I found it took me longer to identify whose perspective we were looking at things from, which ordinarily might frustrate me. However, here it tied in to a broader loss of stability and certainty – the sense that things which were taken for granted now need a little more work to determine or rely on.

Admittedly, fiction attempting to tackle climate change as a topic isn’t something I’ve read a lot of, but this book does something I haven’t come across before. It doesn’t necessarily look straight at the subject – the focus is always on Adam and his family, using them as the human entrypoint to explore the larger problems, and in that approach making them accessible and emotive, without losing sight of the wider subject.

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Inevitably, fiction about climate disaster can feel a little depressing to read. While the implications of the story are heavy, this book did avoid getting too weighed down by them – weighed down in a way that would have made me want to stop reading. This book is very well balanced between themes, and I think a lot of that is achieved by resisting the temptation to explain things. This is not a long book, at 239 pages, but there is a huge amount packed into the writing here, especially in the later chapters as the prose becomes sparser and more poetic. The book very clearly expresses a sense of fear about the things we are poised to lose.

I was incredibly intrigued by this book and its themes. There is a lot present here which I’m sure I missed in one (very quick) reading, and I’d be keen to look closer with a second reading.

Bradley, James 1

Book Only

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