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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I've got a review of Sarah Hall's Atwoodesque dystopia Daughters of the North in this week's Independent. This review sort of skirts the line of what's acceptably graphic for print and what isn't, and frankly I'm a little amazed that I wasn't asked to rewrite the second paragraph—but I wasn't, and I mean it when I say the scene really stuck with me in a visceral way.

Here's the kernel:

It's this hope that may seem very far away in our moment of extraordinary rendition, emergency powers and unrestricted executive authority, a moment that isn't at all hard to connect with Hall's dystopia—which is why it's a little strange, and yet somehow at the same time absolutely necessary, to set out to read a book that you know will deliberately toy with and then destroy any hope you have for a better tomorrow. It's something like picking at a scab. Many of us have read Atwood and George Orwell, after all—and even those who haven't will learn all they need to know about what sort of book this is if they pay careful attention to the italicized words on the book's first page: English Authority Penal System Archive—record no. 498: Transcript recovered from site of Lancaster holding dock. Statement of female prisoner detained under Section 4(b) of the Insurgency Prevention (Unrestricted Powers) Act. We know what sort of book we're in. We know this can't end well.

I'm reminded a bit of the words of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano: "Let's save pessimism for better times." And yet Hall's dystopian story of resistance and struggle, even in its inevitable defeat, must be read at the same time as a kind of optimism, striking in its final pages a defiant chord that reminds us power can sometimes be defeated, if not always, and if always at great cost.