After I thoroughly enjoyed Vox and The Power, I spent one of my audible credits on this, which often comes up on ‘if you liked this, you’ll love’ lists in relation to Vox and The Handmaid’s Tale. I was looking forward to an inspection of women and fertility and something really engaging and thought-provoking. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t get that. I didn’t really… get this book. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not clever enough for it.
Five women. One question. What is a woman for?In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.
Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.
I didn’t just not get this book. I think I actually disliked it. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. I didn’t enjoy the plot. I hated the way the characters were referred to by their titles or positions, regularly, although I can see why the author chose to do that.
There are five distinct characters here, each of whom has their own story to tell, but they don’t intertwine particularly well. The book hops between them arbitrarily, and never seems to have a cohesive grasp of what it’s trying to say. There are certainly moments in this book which are excellent – Susan’s crushingly small life which Didier expects her to be satisfied with is really well drawn and I could feel the claustrophobia seeping out of the speakers. Mattie’s terror and angst at her unexpected pregnancy as against her own status as an adopted child is really interesting as well, although I definitely think it could have been given more space.
All in all, though, this book just didn’t work for me. I didn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t enjoy the plot. The structure annoyed me. The writing style took me out of the experience of read it (or listening to it, since this was an audiobook). I think the only reason I read it as quickly as I did was because I had two flights in four days, so I had uninterrupted stretches of time where an audiobook was easily absorbed.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will think this novel electric, insightful, and expertly written. I’m just not one of them. For me, this was a big disappointment and definitely not one I’d read again.