Jan 4, 2013
Recommended Read: Daughters of the North
Daughters of the North (originally published in the U.K. in 2008 as The Carhullan Army) by Sarah Hall is a striking, vividly written novel about a dystopian future England, in which women are forcibly implanted with IUD’s in order to control their fertility. This is a novel for adults, and although I think many teens would be interested in it, it definitely has an adult, often literary sensibility. I really enjoyed it, and although some violent scenes (both physical and psychological) are difficult to stomach, I believe that is the point.
The main character is a 30-something woman we only know as Sister, who flees the town where she lives after being implanted with an IUD. Leaving her husband and former life behind, she hikes forty miles into the countryside in search of Carhullan, a mythical-seeming place where a band of women has created an isolated, self-sustaining farm.
Carhullan, however, is not a myth. When Sister arrives, she is put through a brutal, punishing hazing, while the women — led by the charismatic Jackie Nixon — determine whether Sister is a spy or a genuine refugee. Eventually, Sister is absorbed into their community, which has echoes of lesbian separatist utopias of the 1970s, but is given a much more vicious setting. The world of Daughters of the North is a future in which the government of England has disintegrated into an authoritarian state. Food is scarce, and the people are forced to work in factories fabricating parts for machines that will never be assembled. It’s not clear why or how England arrived at this state, but it’s not a good one, and it’s obvious that Sister would much rather take her chances with a band of potentially dangerous women who live off the grid than stay in the city.What I found most fascinating about the book was the culture of the women at Carhullan. It’s a blend of military dictatorship and utopian feminist community, and I only wish there had been more detail about the place because I found it so interesting. The women are not all lesbians, but some of them are. Sister, whom you may remember left her husband in town, forms a relationship with one of the women at Carhullan. She also joins Jackie Nixon’s group of women who are training as an army.
The novel is structured in several sections titled “File One,” “File Two,” etc. Some of the files are designated with the subtitle “Complete Recovery,” while others are designated “Partial Corruption,” suggesting that some of the story has been lost. The one thing that frustrated me about the relatively short novel, which I otherwise found very engrossing, was that I wanted “Complete Recovery” for every file. It was clear that some meaningful developments were skipped, and while I’m sure the author had a reason for it…I just wanted more!
But if you’re looking for a thought-provoking, beautifully written, adult dystopian with a queer female main character — and a totally intriguing community of women — I highly recommend Daughters of the North.