Monday, 15 October 2012

When She Woke, by Hilary Jordan

This book cover will stare you out.
Hannah Payne lives in a dystopian future America. Uber-conservative Christians make the rules and convicted criminals serve their sentences out in public, melachromed for easy identification and colour coded according to the severity of their crimes. Why should honest Christians pay tax dollars to keep criminals in prison? Hannah is a murderer. She has illegally aborted her unborn child and refused to name its father, so adding years to her sentence. As punishment, she is dyed a vivid pillar-box red and ejected into the world to face the public and her family.

Had this not been the selection of a book club I attend, I would never have read it.  However the premise of an uber-conservative government with a zero tolerance stance on abortion intrigued me.  Particularly when you look at the apparent success of certain pro-life US presidential candidates and the ill-informed 12-week abortion limit witterings of out current 'Health' secretary.  Perhaps it doesn't seem as far fetched as it once might have.

What did irritate me throughout is the regurgative quality of the writing.  You can piece the plot together quite wholly using parts of other novels.  For example.
  • The relationship between Hannah and Kayla is exceptionally similar to that of Offred and Moira in the (Massively Superior) Handmaid's Tale.  One's oppressed, with the potential for uprising but needs bringing out of her shell a bit.  The other is feisty and self-sufficient, a shell-shedding catalyst.  There's also similarities in the far-right Christian extremism and associated war on women, the importance of the colour red, the gender-roles of parenthood and a bunch of other stuff beside.
  • The sadistic Christian 'retreat' that Hannah and Kayla meet in was pretty reminiscent of Jane Eyre's boarding school, complete with Evangelical, cruel patron(ess), scratchy uncomfortable uniforms and insufficient food.
  • The fact that the time spent incarcerated on the "Chrome Ward" was televised felt to me like an attempt to piggy back on the "Reality TV gone mental" aspect of The Hunger Games.  I know many novels have used this previously, but taking into account its recent success/film release...The TV aspect was never mentioned again and I didn't feel it added anything to the plot.
  • The Scarlet Letter.  That is all.
There's also a pretty misplaced lesbian episode that didn't work in the slightest.  For a person who's been raised for 20-odd years believing that homosexuality is abhorrent and ungodly, Hannah has a week living under the instruction of a feminist organisation and BOOM, she sheds 2 and a half decades of evangelist brainwashing and suddenly finds women (or A woman, at least) attractive.  It's the as-read connection between lesbianism and feminism that's a bit worrying there, like they're interchangeable or somehow inseparable.   It would have been more in-character and less ridiculous for Hannah to have just accepted homosexuality as a concept, rather than just leaping right in to her little 'affair', as she calls it.  

The plot's pacey enough and is roughly divided into three parts: adjusting to life as a Chrome, life in the Christian organisation and the fight from assassination cult "The Fist of Christ".  The first part is probably where the most interesting ideas emerge as Hannah has to come to terms with the stares, the discrimination and the loss of friends and family.  It also doesn't feature as much of the annoyingly pious and fabulously forbidden walking piece of God-fodder Rev. Aidan Dale.  We hear about him.  A LOT.

We get it.  Religious fundamentalism, bad.  Women's rights, good.  Adultery, can of worms.
It's not awful, but there's certainly better.

1 comment:

  1. Your review is interesting because you compare the novel to other novels, but maybe you are too harsh. Based on my experinece as an author it's very difficult to write 300+ original pages without drawing on ideas from other novels. And even the novels that you mentioned are also not original. For example, The Hunger Games is very similar to a novel from Japan. The author has an interesting idea for a novel.