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Thought Provoking but Flawed
on 9 April 2008
Strangely, I find myself in agreement with parts of nearly all the previous reviews here.
First the good points. Sarah Hall's writing is excellent and this novel is highly readable. On the opening page she uses the delightful phrase 'It was a wet rotting October' and this type of evocative language is used right through to the novel's very last words. The narrator slowly drip feeds the reader with snippets of backstory that cover the collapse of the United Kingdom and the genesis of the 'Authority'. This is very well done and Hall makes a breakdown of this magnitude seem scarily plausible. For me, these sections form the strongest part of the novel and should be compulsory reading for anybody considering working for the Ministry of Justice.
I have to come clean and admit that I'm a man and concede that perhaps I'm not the target audience for this novel but for me, the sections dealing with the all-women commune, didn't really stack up. These parts felt derivative and rehashed from countless other (superior) dystopian visions. This novel inevitably invites comparison with Margaret Atwood's "Handmaid's Tail" but this is like comparing the Marx Brothers with the Chuckle Brothers; the Carhullan Army just doesn't come close.
The lesbain love scenes, although sensitively handled were all too predictable and added little to the story. The central question posed by the novelis, 'Will women become as violent as men if they have to?' but Hall's attempts to answer it feel clumsy and contrived. One thing that is exemplified well, is that no matter what ones intentions, absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely.
The novel does rather collapse in on itself as it reaches the final pages and the ambiguity of the ending isn't very satisfactory but Hall's excellent prose pulls the reader along at a breakneck speed. In all I'm not sure that novel achieves what the author intended but it is an enjoyable read. I haven't stopped thinking about the Carhullan Army since finishing it, which is a strong positive for this flawed but powerful novel.