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Climate Change Fiction (Cli-Fi): A review of Clare Moleta’s “Unsheltered”

Book cover of Clare Moleta’s novel, Unsheltered

I recently figured out I have been reading books of a very specific genre – dystopian novels and climate disaster novels which one could argue are a subgenre of dystopias. I didn’t recognise that I was in this pattern until I looked over my recently read books on Goodreads. I find it strange that I have these moments where I crave a particular genre over others. These kinds of things seem to come and go on a whim like most of my reading habits of late, so who knows what my next deep dive will be.

Unsheltered by Australian author, Clare Moleta, was released in May 2021. It is a book I had on my to-read list for a while, but as we went into lockdown number 5000 (hyperbole here – but only slightly) in Melbourne, I really couldn’t bring myself to read a book that I felt like I was living in some way or another.

The novel is about the journey of Li after her eight-year-old daughter, Matti goes missing. Li and Matti are both ‘unsheltered’, a term that is used in the novel to describe people who live outside the government protected living spaces. Those who are unsheltered seem to live in makeshift shanty/tent towns where food, medicine, and safety are luxuries. There are extreme climate events, wave after wave of new sicknesses that kill the unsheltered in the thousands. There are those who would exploit the lawless nature of the unsheltered zones and there is a lot of violence and mistrust between people. Everyone is fighting for themselves and themselves alone.

When I was reading the novel, the imagery reminded me of the film Mad Max which is also set in Australia. There was this mix of tech and scrapping old mechanical and electronic devices to use as currency. In some ways, it gave the novel a sci-fi feel.

I wanted to love this book, but it sort of fell flat. While we followed Li as she looked for Matti, the focus was very much on her journey and while that was an important part of the story, I wanted to know more about how Australia and the world ended up the way it did in the novel. It is a trend I’ve seen in a few novels like this where the backstory, the why is never really discussed. Instead, the reader is dropped into a new unfamiliar space and that landscape is never properly explored.

It is interesting though to see Australian authors like Moleta take on the issue of climate change and the concerns many Australians have about the future of the country and its people. I hope that this novel does provide a way for people to discuss and talk about climate issues, refugees, and pandemics. Sometimes fiction allows people the space for that in the way that nonfiction cannot. Through the mother/daughter relationship of Li and Matti, there are lots of parallels with taking care of the earth, our responsibility to each other, and even our responsibility to have children or not.

Tell me what dystopian novels you have been reading of late. Rest assured, there will be some more dystopian novels coming up for review here, at least my reading appetite changes again. As always, share the reading love.

2 thoughts on “Climate Change Fiction (Cli-Fi): A review of Clare Moleta’s “Unsheltered”

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