Passing Bechdel: The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall


The Bechdel Test.

carhullan armyI haven't posted for a thousand years, dear reader, and I'm certain your lives have been a touch darker and emptier for my negligence. Never fear, I've got a great one for you today and I recommend you beg, borrow or download (legally) a copy.

In Hall's dystopian novel it is the “near future” and a series of disasters including war, oil shortages, rising sea levels and economic collapse have left Britain under martial law. Tinned food is shipped in aid packages from the United States, travel outside of cities is forbidden, all citizens are assigned repetitive jobs in factories. Women are forced to wear contraceptive devices and the right to reproduce is assigned by lottery.

Our protagonist, known only as Sister, leaves the city she is “registered” in and goes in search of the women at Carhullan. Once an eco-commune, the women of Carhullan were outside the city and living off the grid at a hill fort in a treacherous mountainous environment when disaster struck. There they remained, largely forgotten. Sister finds them and meets Jackie, a woman who has taken on the hardened features of the harsh landscape. Leader and soldier.

This is a dystopia from a woman's perspective. The story is told in flashback by Sister through English Authority Penal System archive documents. At first the complete picture of the disasters that have befallen Britain are shadowy, the nature of the oppression hazy, the suspense gradually gives way to rising horror. In a way the slow reveal acts as a metaphor for how matter of factly people accept the rule of law, even as it crushes them. In many ways the novel is a love story to oppressed classes. But it also makes a mockery of armchair revolutionaries, showing how quickly ideals are forgotten when danger is at hand. It draws a painful line between those who submit and those who simply cannot. It is eco-aware and queer friendly. The final pages are a call to arms.

Jackie is one of the more fascinating female characters I've ever met.

Having enjoyed another of Sarah Hall's books, How to Paint a Dead Man, she is becoming one of my favourite authors. She's Atwoodesque and an intuitive, talented writer.

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall: four stars. (Incidentally, if you're looking for it in the US it's called The Daughters of the North.)

You'll like it if: you annoyingly bang on about The Handmaid's Tale to anyone who'll listen. If suspense enthralls, instead of irritates.

This post first appeared on my old blog A Shiny New Coin. It's got a little dust on it but it's still good.

 

About leatherboundpounds

I am a Perth writer who reads plenty and thinks too much. Here are my adventures in literature, one page at a time. View all posts by leatherboundpounds

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