So, I’ve been thinking about female separatists recently. It has come up in a variety of ways—cookbooks, magazine interviews, friendly conversation—and I read this book right in the middle of this topic cloud. On the surface, the idea is very compelling, and to Daughters of the North’s main character, known only as Sister, the freedoms she imagines she will find in such a place are too seductive to resist, though we know from the first page of the book that she ultimately does not find what she is looking for.
Daughters of the North is set in a near-future England where a failing government has herded the population into work camps to produce fuel, and regulates all aspects of life. The threat of death or worse pervades the everyday. Sister wants out of the cruel, meaningless grind, and, almost as if daring herself, begins preparations to leave the camp, ditching her husband and “official” status in the process. Using childhood memories and a few squirreled away newspaper articles, Sister crosses the rugged and beautiful Northern English landscape, perfectly evoked by Hall, to Carhullan, a farm commune of women, long separated from the mainstream. I really enjoyed this section of the book because I think it shows perfectly how dehumanizing conditions twist people and how fear can be triumphed.
Though DotN does examine the failings of utopia, what I found more interesting was how Hall plops us inside of Carhullan and describes its inner workings to show both the beauty of an achieved dream and the dangers of idolatry and hatred. The plotting is brisk and you never, with the exception of some painful dialogue, feel thrown out of the story because of the themes or characterization.
I thought this book was excellent SF. Read it now.