Daughters of the North


“Sister, how bad does a situation have to be before a woman will strike out, not in defence, but because something is, as you say, worth fighting for?”

The heroine of Sarah Hall’s 2007 novel, Daughters of the North, is known only as Sister. She, like Hall’s prose, is raw, brave, and surprising, both to herself and to the reader. After escaping from a post-flood tyrannical society, where coils are shoved into women’s vaginas to keep them from having children until their lottery number comes up, Sister joins the mostly female community at Carhullan, a farm outside the offical realm of the new government authority. There, she becomes a hardened warrior.

The book, which has garnered high praise (including a James Tiptree Jr. prize earlier this year), is remarkable for its lovingly accurate portrayal of women. The female body and mind are given their due here; their potential is realized. It feels somehow violent, and rough — there’s no hint of an apology — and although the story takes place in some dystopian future, the themes it raises are powerful in the present.             

“It was no better and no worse than the treatment I gave the others, when the roles were reversed. It was no better and no worse than the treatment soldiers had always undergone in preparation for deployment. And Jackie saw to it that we were no different from them.

She did not make monsters of us. She simply gave us the power to remake ourselves into those inviolable creatures the God of Equality had intended us to be. We knew she was deconstructing the old disabled versions of our sex, and that her ruthlessness was adopted because those constructs were built to endure. She broke down walls that had kept us contained. There was a fresh red field on the other side, and in its rich soil were growing all the flowers of war that history had never let us gather. It was beautiful to talk in. As beautiful as the fells that autumn.”

I have a feeling I will ponder this book for some time.

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