What to Read After… Look Up! 20/09/21
The Carhullan Army
Britain is in a bad way.
Flooding, fuel shortages and overseas military commitments have taken their toll on the environment and the economy. Most of the population has been corralled into the cities; women have contraceptive copper coils inserted into them, and, humiliatingly, have to submit to random physical inspections to check that they have not removed them; food is rationed and restricted to overly salted or sweetened tinned food donated by the United States.
The Authority rules most of the country, restricting the movement of the populace and marking down as Unofficial any citizens who choose to live beyond their boundaries. One group of women in northern England has done just that, removing themselves from the administrative centre of Rith to set up a self-sufficient community on the farm of Carhullan, perched high in the remote wind-blasted fells.
The narrator of the novel, known simply as Sister, decides to leave her drab existence in Rith. Her carefully hoarded newspaper clippings about the Carhullan commune and its charismatic leaders Jackie and Veronique inspire her to escape from the city in search of the women. Her welcome, when she finally arrives, is not the one she was expecting.
Sarah Hall writes beautifully captures the Cumbrian landscape and brutally realises her dystopian setting. Ultimately, the Carhullan women are definitely, vitally, female, but what makes them strong is their willpower, and their story is both full-blooded, compelling and real.