Clade, James Bradley

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Feature image from DANIELSHAW via CITYLAB

CLADE, by James Bradley.

The first time I met James Bradley he stepped in to resolve an argument.  The staff (Me) at a cafe were in an argument about whether or not vegans should eat honey.  A notoriously obnoxious customer had been troublesome for days over the definition of a vegan smoothie in which they insisted honey should be included.

I was under the impression that honey is bee milk, and if you can’t take it from a cow you shouldn’t take it from a bee.  The customer did not agree and continued to complain about the lack of honey in their smoothie.

James Bradley, Clade cover, clade james bradelyNot only did Bradley sort out the ins and out of bee milk he also went on to teach us a great deal more about bees while waiting for coffee.

Ok, so looking back on it, he didn’t really resolve anything, but I did learn then, that he knew a lot about bees.  This was also the moment I learnt he was a writer*.

It would take a further two years for me to be convinced he actually really truly was a writer (Which he is) and that he had written things before (He had) and been paid for them (Yep he had)  You can image how the conversations went on.

He came in and out the cafe where worked for a few years, chatting about reviewing books, writing, traveling to writers festivals and how one should best await the announcement of the Booker Prize.

When I opened the Sydney Morning Herald a few years later I was thrilled to see his novel was coming out – With bee’s on the cover!  I couldn’t believe it.  I had to get it.

This is how I came to be reading Clade by JAMES BRADLEY.

Adam and Ellie open the novel and from these two branches of family carry the reader through generations and almost a century of time.  It is hard to say what Clade is ‘about’ without sounding heavy handed.  One could easily say that Clade is a terrifying warning of the havoc about to befall us, but for each generation we meet, there is an acceptance and adaptation to their changing world.

As the structure of a beach changes and disappears Maddie, Ellie’s step mother, does not join in the movement of restoration.  ‘At first that was because she could not find it in herself to care, but more recently it is because she has come to feel there is something beautiful in this ruination of the beach.’

I knew the area in which Clade was set, the coastal towns and urban inner city.  Suddenly these places were more interesting to me.  I wanted to go back to them.  I wanted to return and look one more time on the streets of Redfern, King street in Newtown, realising they will not be around forever.

For the multiple characters in Clade finding connection, comfort and companionship, is more important than fighting against their changing the world.

I read Clade during the April storms that ravaged Sydney.  I followed the storms on the news, as I hid from the southerly winds and hail that struck our home.  I was acutely aware of the world as I read.  I wondered how much carbon was coming out of our chimney at that time.  It was so dark during those days that the lights were on inside.  I was acutely aware of our power bill, our emissions our impact on the world.  It was a surreal and sobering time to be reading Clade on the coast of NSW.

It took most of the first chapter, Solstice, to fall into the style of Bradley’s writing.  Having just finished the THORN BORDS, I realised my mind had slackened off.  I had fallen victim to being spoon fed the story.  I actually reread the first chapter, realising that this was a book worth paying close attention to.  By the time I started Monsoon, the second chapter, I was immersed.

I loved reading the vivid depiction of a changed England in Boiling the Frog, the ‘canoes and kayaks propped against walls’, the flood lines along the paint, the way Bradley wrote about the ocean returning to claim back the land.

Even if it hasn’t happened yet, the reality is the ocean will have it back, the planet will overwhelm it.

The only time I felt a little unconvinced was during the chapter 1420 MHz in which I was reminded that Clade is a science fiction novel.  Yet even while I struggled with my own disbelief I still continued, as Bradley managed to bring my doubts into perspective.  Perhaps a testament to just how great this book is.

It is not a debate they need to resolve quickly, of course. Even once they do respond, it will be five hundred years before the message reaches SKA-2165, another five hundred before anyone hears back.

In the final moments of reading that chapter I felt such affection for Noah.  Noah is an autistic boy who spends most of his life wishing that interactions with others where  and easier to understand, and In the final chapters of Clade [Spoiler] he pinnacle of his life’s work was to discover a distant language, revelling in the fact that he could not understand it.  That no matter what the language was it was saying, the message was simple, here we are, you are not alone.

As I continue to read novels more critically, and learn how to articulate my responses to them, I find it easier to review books I didn’t like.  I enjoyed reading Clade so much that to review and critic it is difficult.  I feel gushy, stupid and just want to tell everyone, I loved it!  (Blegh!)

I googled other reviews of Clade to see if there were others who could better put into words what I was feeling**.

Thank goodness I found it, in the wise words of of Michael Lucy from the MONTHLY who wrote, ‘It stays with the reader…It tells us that life will go on, even after the end of the world.’  It was exactly how I felt when I finished Clade, like it had stuck inside me somewhere and I took it with me after the story was finished.

CLADE  was released in 2014 by Penguin, Hamish Hamilton.  Clade is Bradley’s sixth book and took me a little over a week to finish.

Clade was written over 18 months, according to an INTERVIEW with the Sydney Morning Herald however, with a number of discarded novels along the way.  Bradley is also an acclaimed book reviewer and writes a science fiction blog CITY OF TONGUES. It is from this work that Bradley was awarded the 2012 PASCALL PRIZE for Critical Writing.

I have already started to recommend this book to others, and when I posted online that I had finished reading Clade I discovered a few of my friends had already started reading it.

What I learnt from reading Clade.

  • I learnt that Science Fiction writing can be very beautiful.
  • Science fiction writing can be stark and hopeful.
  • Stories can be strung together with finer thread.
  • Silence is sometimes golden, and that I should allow my readers more freedom to pull the story together themselves.
  • To give my reader more credit.


*May or may not have been in the same conversation.

**To read better reviews of this book check out the SMH and the MONTHLY


by Meg

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