Published January 28th 2015 by Hamish Hamilton
“It is quiet out here today, the only sounds that disturb the silence those of the wind, the occasional squalling cry of the birds. Down by the water an elephant seal lies on the rocks, its vast bulk mottled and sluglike; around it tracks of human activity scar the snow like rust, turning it grey and red and dirty.” Loc 34- 35
Well, at long last, I am back to my award list reading/reviewing. Clade was on the Locus Recommended Reading list. But, unfortunately, it didn’t reach the final ballot. I disagree with this omission. I really liked this novel. In fact, I predict that it will be one of my books of 2016. The work is a written evocation of a well-drawn, depressingly, beautiful world, peopled by great characters. This work, which I am going to call a work of mosaic fiction, is formed of several, interrelated, independent, and interdependent pieces. Each section of the novel follows a different character/s (either; Ellie, Adam, Summer or Noah) tracing the various strata of their shared history.
This work deals with environmental decay, and destruction. It is an attempt to understand, change and stop that destruction. It starts with a young Adam surveying the ice fields and noticing the damage that humanity is doing to this setting. In later sections of the novel, we follow; Adam, Summer, and Noah, racing to escape a storm, in an attempt to escape from the effects of global warming. In addition, this work focuses on the collapse of bee colonies throughout the globe. You could say that the destruction of the bee hives foretells the destruction of the human colony.
So, this book looks head on at the damage that we are inflicting on the environment. But, it is more than; a call to arms, a diatribe, a polemical piece of writing, or depressing mournful cry for humanity. In fact, it is all of those things and more. We see that human lives continue, despite the harshness of the times. The characters aren’t simply signifiers in a political argument. They are more than place holders, puppets in the authors argumentative polemic. They are themselves, concerned with their own messy lives. The characters do live in an Anthropocene world and have to cope with the effects of environmental damage. But, that doesn’t stop them from living. These characters still; go through the problems of childhood and adolescence, get jobs, get married, have children, quarrel, get divorced and age. In other words, these characters live full and messy lives.
Bradley shows the characters interacting with the world and its inhabitants. Amir is one of the interesting individuals that we meet along the way. Ellie meets him when she is exploring the possibility of creating an art instillation around his bees. We learn that Amir is an ‘illegal immigrant’. Through him we see the horrors, and inhumanity, of the immigration system, both; in our world, and the world presented in the book.
As you may be aware, I am disabled. Therefore, I am always interested when a book includes characters with disabilities. Noah has Autism. It is interesting to see how Noah, and his need for uniformity and stability, reacts to an ever changing world. It is great that, while Bradbury doesn’t shrink from the pain that Autism inflicts on Noah and his family, he doesn’t portray Noah as a victim of this pain. He gives Noah a narrative arc and a future, even in a world where the cards seems stacked against him.
This is a brilliant evocation of a world in decline. But, it is, also, a world which is full of life, life which is struggling to survive. It is a beautifully drawn picture of a decaying hopeless, and hopeful, world. I highly recommend this work