Category Archives: Dystopian Fiction

Read 18 of 2022. The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan


Title: The School for Good Mothers
Author: Jessamine Chan
Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann, Penguin Random House UK
ISBN:  9781529151329
Genre: Dystopian Fiction 
Pages: 336 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

Think of this book like 1984 but for mothers. Mothers who the state thinks aren’t good enough to take care of their children. Mothers who abandon and those who neglect. The ones who prioritise a career over raising their children as per a prescription. Mothers who basically do not follow rules.

Jessamine Chan’s world is that of horror, to constantly keep the reader on their toes, knowing fully well that no one is watching and yet it seems that way with every turn of the page.

You empathise with Frida Liu, a divorced mom who is trying very hard to be there for her 18-month-old daughter, Harriet. Till she abandons her for an afternoon – to get a cup of coffee, answers her email in office, and forget about her child. The neighbours hear the child’s screams and the authorities are summoned. The child’s custody is given to her ex-husband and his young girlfriend. Frida is placed under constant surveillance by the government and ultimately is sent to a state-run reeducation camp for “bad” mothers. What happens there and later makes for most of the book.

Chan’s story is chilling. It is of a world that demands perfection from mothers, while fathers are not held accountable. It is a world that constantly wants proof of women being good mothers – which means essentially that they should be perfect and self-sacrificing. They shouldn’t yell. They should always smile and love the child no matter what. They should anticipate their children’s needs and be there for them. Frida and some other women at the “school” definitely do not fit the mould. They are constantly questioning the system and that’s the other part of the story – told most subtly.

Chan’s writing is easy while making the points she does at every page. There is racism, classism – sometimes through Frida who is second-generation Asian American or in the form of other women who are Black, poor, or both. The white women are absolved of it all – they can make no mistake and when they do, they are let off easy most of the time.

There is a lot to unpack in this brilliant novel. The questions of motherhood, and what is being maternal at the core of it – what is parenting, and most importantly what the role of love is in raising a child are asked over and over again. The School for Good Mothers is perceptive, horrifying, and makes us look up and pay attention to the world we live in.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Borne Title: Borne
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374115241
Genre: Literary Fiction, Science-Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Pages: 330
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Borne” is an unusual book that takes some time getting into. It isn’t an easy read. Don’t be fooled by the initial pages. If anything, it will also drive you in a tizzy, trying to sometimes make sense of what is going on. It is dystopian and not so much because we can see what will happen to us if we don’t take care of our surroundings and the environment. This was a wake-up call for me but more than anything else, VanderMeer’s writing (I have read his The Southern Reach trilogy and it is fantastic) is first-class and he is most certainly at the top of his game.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city – destroyed by drought and conflict, the other half destroyed by experiments (which were obviously in vain) conducted by the Company – a biotech firm, now rendered useless. Rachel lives with her partner Wick who deals with his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. And in all of this one fine day Rachel finds Borne and takes him home. Borne is more than just a green lump and has something magnificent about him. Borne is a constant reminder to Rachel of the life before the so-called apocalypse that took place (albeit of a different kind). She takes care of Borne, nurtures him – he makes sense of the world and makes Rachel believe in the goodness of the world all over again. Till he grows of course and everything goes for a toss. The world they have created is not perfect and Rachel would have to reconsider her decision.

There is a sense of morality about “Borne” which is very high. VanderMeer is okay with you taking any side, and yet it feels that he only wants you to be on one side so to say. He is also great at casting a web of fables – most of the book is that, but it is also the scary future we could have. Jeff’s prose is lucid and yet detailed at so many levels. He stretches your imagination and doesn’t serve anything on a platter, which to me is fantastic. The characters behave strangely and it is great to get to the motive at the end of it. I hope this one also has another two-parts, because to me Borne’s story does not end here. I am certain there is more. So if you like your books to make a chill run down your spine, then this is the one for you.