The Carhullan Army – Sarah Hall

Summary:

This is a dystopian near-future. Britain is essentially a wasteland, ruled by the Authority (a totalitarian type government), and everything is grey and bleak. Everything in people’s lives is controlled, right down to women being forced to fit contraceptive devices. The hometown of our narrator, Penrith, is over-crowded, filled with despairing people doing meaningless work, in return for an ordered life and steady food rations.

Our narrator, Sister, finds a way to break out of her oppressed town, and makes her way into the mountains, to find the semi-legendary community of Carhulla. The stories speak of a self-reliant, self-sustaining community of women. What she finds both reinforces and subverts her expectations. While she does meet kindness and acceptance, there is a steel edge to many of the women that speaks to a darker purpose, and an unsettling group-think. This stand-off between societies cannot last, with fears that the long arm of the Authority will reach for and destroy the isolated commune.

Main Characters:

Sister: The narrator of the story, she remains nameless. We see everything through her eyes.

Shruti: She becomes Sister’s best friend at the commune.

Jackie Nixon: The fierce, independent leader of the commune, tough as old boots.

What I Liked:

  • Interesting view on leadership styles, and what does the greater good mean.
  • The sub-text of the climate change issue, how living with nature brings better results than fighting her.

What I Didn’t like:

  • The world-building was sparse. The reader just has to accept the place is a dystopia, with no real backdrop/context.
  • The narrative was broken – it was written where a third party had discovered recordings of Sister’s narrative, but several sections had been destroyed/lost along the way, resulting in huge gaps. For me, this lessened the story, as you were catapulted from one time section to another, losing threads on the way.

Overall:

I was not blown away by this book. I found it hard to empathise with the narrator, as she didn’t appeal to me. I was unsure –  was she was supposed to be a strong character for running away? She idolised those who beat her to a pulp? Was the society she ran to, really that much better from whence she came? Very contradictory.

There were too many jumps in the story e.g. getting ready for a siege, then the next chapter we are in the middle of a burning city. The dialogue was sparse, and at the end I was left wondering what the author wanted to achieve with the book. Overall, for me, a disappointment.

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