Bleak City is the story of a family living through the Canterbury earthquakes. The main character is Alice Moorhouse, who is 18 and most of the way through her first year at university when the quakes disrupt her life.
The Canterbury earthquake sequence is at the heart of Bleak City. There wasn’t just one quake, the 7.1 quake on the 4th of September 2010 triggered a years-long series of aftershocks, including three magnitude 6+ quakes that were closer to the city than the 7.1. The shallow, violent 6.3 on the 22nd of February 2011 was centred under the hills south of the city. This quake left the city devastated, killed 185 people and injured thousands. Tens of thousands embarked on a long, painful journey to recovery, which continues today.
The novel’s title is Bleak City not to paint a bleak future for Christchurch, but to recognise that post-quake life is a struggle for many people. It was this post-quake struggle rather than the earthquakes themselves that prompted me to write fictionalised accounts of the stories I saw taking place around me. The slow, painful progress of the rebuild and the bureaucratic hurdles people are forced to navigate are having a toll on the city. This is the manmade disaster. The stories of people living in, especially, the south and east of the city contrast with those being told by authorities, who spin the recovery as nearly done, almost there. It’s not, and it won’t be for many years. Some people will never recover, emotionally or financially, and some have died while waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt.