It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.
If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:
- Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
- Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
- American War by Omar El Akkad
- Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
- Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
- Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
The winner will be announced July 18th so my goal is to read and review every book before that. So brace yourself for some serious Clarke spam in the next few days. 😉
Genre: Science Fiction (???), Literary Fiction
Publisher: Tinder Press
Length: 341 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Publication Date: July 25th 2017
Gather The Daughters tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.
Gather the Daughters counts the life of several girls while they grow up on a hellish island where they are completely abused by men. They are trained since their birth to be perfect little wives for their future husbands. They must listen, they must obey, they must have children and they must die when they are told to.
When I started this book, I thought the whole premise was, while very scary, pretty interesting. I was ready for a Handmaid’s Tale-like book set in a post-apocalyptic future where women’s right are completely non-existent. Indeed, early on in the book, we learn that this society was created after a plague completely ravaged humanity. The girls are lead to believe that, outside the island, they are nothing but “wastelands”, lands so poisoned that only “defectives” are still able to survive there. If the girls were to leave the island, they would be torn apart by them. However, as we soon learn, a few of the island’s inhabitants recently arrived from the wastelands. And they appear completely normal.
(I guess it’s kind of a spoiler so if you really want to read this book, skip to the next paragraph.) We, as the reader, quickly then presume that the whole island story is based on a complete lie. There are no wastelands, no “defectives” outside, only the real world. Which means that the girls are raised and kept on the island for no apparent “good” reasons. As we also quickly learn, they are all abused since childhood by their fathers to teach them to behave, and while it remains quite taboo and no scenes explicitely describe the rapes, it’s impossible not to understand what’s going on in the darkness of the homes.
I was ready for some dark scenes but I wasn’t ready for how messed-up the entire system would be. I have a strong stomach but reading more than 300 pages of little girls being abused by their own parents wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. I managed to finish the book but I had to skim a few scenes toward the end because I couldn’t take it anymore.
The worst is that the entire novel felt pointless. You read about characters going through horrible things while being completely unable to escape and that for about 350 pages. When a few girls try to rebel, their situation just turn even worse while nothing bad ever happen to the agressors. For me, this book reminded me a lot of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, it’s basically what I call “torture-porn”: you read about horrible things happening to innocent people and, the more you read, the more their lifes turn to shit. A lot of people seem to like this kind of books but I definitely do not.
Th book isn’t bad per say: the writing and the characters are two strong points. Melamed succeeds in her attempt to create an atmosphere of desesparation and isolation and it managed to reinforce quite well my feeling of claustrophobia and horror while reading the book. However, as you can imagine, even if it requires good writing skill, it didn’t make the reading experience any better for me.
Also, and even more so than Spaceman of Bohemian, this book isn’t a science fiction book at all. I don’t know what the judges thought this year but frankly, I don’t understand why Gather The Daughters is on the list. I just don’t get it.
I wouldn’t recommend Gather The Daughters, I don’t think any people would find it worthwhile or enjoyable. Well except if you read and enjoyed A Little Life, you might LOVE this book then…
TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse, pedophilia, incest.