Justina's Reviews > The Carhullan Army

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
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's review
Feb 22, 2012

liked it

What I love about this book are two major features: Sarah Hall's delightful prose and her vision of the North of England - in particular its women - as revealed through the protagonist and her heroine. I'm a Northern girl of a similar generation to Hall and I recognise so much in her descriptions of places and people. It was a delight to have them freshly revealed to me and celebrated through her vision. Yes, this definitely captures a clear sense of the romantic elements and sensibilities of Muck, Brass and Lass in T'North and if there are moments where this gets a bit nostalgic and sentimental I didn't mind. The story follows suit, its feel of frontier harshness put me in mind (variously if not intentionally) of "1984", "Blood Meridian" and "True Grit" among other things.

The book keeps its SF credentials fairly close to its chest; although the political setup in which this future Britain has fallen to The Authority is a pastiche of current trends in alienation and big government, it's mostly there to provide a brutalist background of female oppression amid general oppression against which the heroine can make her bid for freedom.

I guess the vision of freedom that comes out is slightly disappointing. I don't know what I expected after the prizes and recommendations but it feels like the past even as it also criticises subtly the various all female utopias that it stirs in the memory. The relationships and the setting conspired with the politics to eventually give Carhullan a feeling more like stone age than new age. I enjoyed the strong characters and the celebration of female abilities though felt like something was lost as this evoked more the norms of heterosexual male supremacy - familiar patterns perhaps do emerge however, rather than the idylls that we dream of and this book sticks to the Northern preference for gritty realism right to the end. Good job :)

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