Enclave, Claire G Coleman

Claire G Coleman routinely reposts reviews of her books on Twitter (as does Nathan Hobby of his). She even reposted my recent review of her Lies, Damned Lies (via a Liz Dexter post). I think they’re both brave to read them in the first place!

But, CGC, don’t repost this one, I don’t think it’s your best work.

Not that I think anyone should be deterred from reading it. I loved Terra Nullius (2017) and I loved The Old Lie (2019). Indigenous.Lit and especially the current wave of women’s Indig.Lit, to which Coleman belongs, seems to me to be both innovative and full of life.

Like her first two, Enclave, which was released just last month, is Science Fiction, though falling easily within ‘Dystopian’ which all you regard as safe, not-really SF. But for me, this one did not flow as easily – the descriptions felt forced and there is a concentration on just one character – a privileged young white woman, Christine – where the other two had a wider cast.

She stared, half-blind,at the cold screen of her smartphone. Safetynet told her the news: updating her on the crime Safetynet and Security were protecting her from; informing her of the dangers outside, the bad people and dangerous criminals being kept outside the city Wall; of the terrorists threatening her life, buildings falling, people dying. Safetynet told her she had no emails…

Christine, a university student in the last year of a maths degree, lives at home with her parents and younger (year 12 ish) brother. Her father is on the committee which runs the walled city in which they live. Her mother, notionally a designer, is an alcoholic, one of the women who lunch, all plastic-surgeoned into near identical faces. The city is patrolled by black-uniformed security forces who live in their own walled compound outside the Wall. Servants, non-white of course, come in by train each day to do all the work. Outside the Wall is a wasteland of broken buildings and scrublands.

The news from outside is of wars, desperate populations, burning cities. No one travels.

Surveillance within the city is constant, by fixed cameras, inside and out, and drones.

A new year starts; her brother begins a Business course which will lead him into the ruling elite; Christine enrols to do her Masters. Her father buys her an apartment which she allows her mother to furnish. Her (platonic) best friend Jack has disappeared and she is lost without him; her mother encourages her to drink.

Coleman seems to have the trick of building the story up in one direction for a while, and then surprising us by taking it down another. This is more muted in Enclave but still, having spent the first part establishing Christine’s life of privilege, she then snatches it away.

Christine takes increasing notice of one of the servants, Sienna. They kiss.

Chill and heat chased each other up and down her skin, fought for the territory of her face.
The hand fell away from her neck. The mouth she would die for pulled away from hers and she chased it, almost caught it before it spoke.
‘Christine’, Sienna warned. ‘We can’t get caught.’

But they do, captured on cameras in Christine’s bedroom.

I currently have two other works of women’s SF on the go, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police (1994). Piercy in a later Introduction discusses women’s SF at some length and I’m going to have to get hold of a written copy (mine is on Audible), before I write a review.

SF is quite often bursting with ideas, and that is true of Enclave, and the whole literary thing suffers at least a little. But Piercy and Ogawa both write smoothly, while developing the characters of their respective ‘heroines’ with some depth – often a strength of women’s SF compared with men’s. Coleman has interesting characters around Christine, but they are not fully developed and I don’t feel that she uses the resulting space to fill out Christine as much as she might have.

I’m also not sure what Coleman was trying to achieve by having a white heroine. Yes, she wanted, as she always does, to highlight racial inequality. But the depictions of Black-white relations are sketchy, and incidental to the main theme which is surveillance and authoritarianism. In my opinion her Indigenous heroines are more effective.

Enclave has two changes of direction, so is a novel in thirds rather than halves. The middle third is an adventure, a struggle to survive, and the last third is – well not a utopia as I’ve seen it described – but Coleman’s current home and my old home, Melbourne, as a model society (and CGC, I love the trains!).

A short review, but what can you do when any description of Christine’s progress must necessarily be full of spoilers. We’ve discussed before that books whose writing I found awkward (Lucashenko!) you found lively and real, so you’ll probably all enjoy this one too. You’ll certainly enjoy the ideas Coleman discusses. Ignore me and give it a try.

.

Claire G Coleman, Enclave, Hachette, Sydney, 2022. 307pp.

For a much more thoughtful review than mine try Alexander Te Pohe’s in Kill Your Darlings 14 July 2022 (here).

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13 thoughts on “Enclave, Claire G Coleman

  1. Thanks for this Bill. You have intrigued me. I really bred Terra nullius, and I do like dystopias (predictable non-SF-lover that l am) but I still tend to resist them as my must-read books. I will keep this one Is mind though. I’m interested in your question about the white protagonist.

    That said, I always thought I should read Piercy’s book, and Ogawa’s interests me too.

    BTW, do you subscribe to KYD?

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    • KYD: No I don’t, and going by the review I quoted I would either get depressed or maybe lift my game (I never felt that with ABR).

      ‘bred’s got me. I can generally guess what your spell checker/voice recognition was aiming at, but not today! The Old Lie was a brilliant mix of mainstream SF and mainstream Indig.Lit. This is more standard Dystopian, but also probably more to your taste.

      An Indigenous writer with a white protagonist is very hard (for an old white guy) to critique. I didn’t feel like Coleman got very far inside her, but I also seem to be an outlier.

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      • I was just saying to Mr Gums last night that I hate the way autocorrect changes what I’ve written when I hit the space bar. I write (today’s was handwriting recognition) and I see my word appearing and then go onto the next word without realising that it’s decided I meant something else. You’d think by now that I’d remember to look at its prediction bar and not at what I’m writing! I am also trying to proofread but clearly didn’t here. All this is to say it was supposed to be “enjoyed”. How that became ”bred” I have no idea.

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  2. Too many too soon, perhaps? Four books in five years, and (according to GR), other writing in between. There are authors who can churn them out like that with no loss of quality, but they are rare…

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    • That’s a fair comment, Lisa. From what I’ve read Coleman makes her living as writer – she’s also an art critic, I don’t know which journal – and so may feel under pressure to make it work. (WG and I had the quantity v quality argument a couple of weeks ago, but I forget in relation to whom).

      I’m sure she could write Lies Damned Lies off the top of her head, but it still must have eaten into the time available for Enclave. Her first two showed she was much more than just a genre writer, I hope she gets back to there (or finds a new direction as Jane Rawson did).

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  3. It’s interesting that as you were writing this review you were aware that the author would likely read it. In most cases, I try to forget the writer because they (should) know that reviews are not for them. They are neither praise nor criticism of the person, but a way to help readers decide if the book is for them.

    Future dystopian novels are only sci-fi to me if they have actual sciencey stuff that hasn’t yet been invented to that much success. Yes, we have robots, but not ones that act like humans, for example. I can see why most people find these futuristic novels to be accessible sci-fi; there’s often little science to be found.

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    • Coleman seems very active on Twitter and quite often links to reviews of her works. I suspect she linked to Liz’s piece which linked to my review of Lies without actually reading my review. I find it very difficult to review authors whom I see as people rather than – what does Foucault say? A name by which we classify works. Something like that.

      Your definition of ‘dystopian’ has merit, and certainly accords with the way it is read today. Coleman, I know, is aware of her roots in SF, but many others, most notably Attwood, pretend and are treated, as though it all sprung fresh and original from their imaginations.

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  4. I tried to tag you in sharing a recent essay on Marge Piercy’s WOTEOT over the weekend but, as usual, when on my phone and not the computer, I don’t always succeed with my big technical ideas. I’ve been thinking about her She, He, and It a lot recently, too. As usual, thinking that includes wanting to reread, but that hasn’t transpired as of yet.

    Where do you have this idea that people don’t view dystopia as science-fiction? Are you referring to the marketing tendency to highlight dystopian stories following the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games? (I’m not casting shade on that series…I was as riveted as the rest, on the page, not so much on the screen!)

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    • I read the Piercy review on Twitter, and commented. It’s a novel I should have reviewed myself, but left it too long.

      The situation in Australia and elsewhere (Atwood, McEwan) is that there have been a lot of good dystopian novels in the last couple of decades which have ostentatiously avoided the tag SF. And just a few which have not (Coleman, Rawson).

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