23 May 2018

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Book chat has been long overdue on here, but coming back with one hell of a thought-provoker. Given it's coming up to conventional holiday season, if you haven't already got Lena Zumas' Red Clocks on your to-read-whilst-horizontal-in-the-sun list, I'd recommend it goes on there, asap (although it's only in hardback until March 2019, so perhaps more kindle-friendly). If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know it took me a couple of months to get through, but by no means does that do the book justice; it's purely a result of overtiredness and not wanting to carry a hardback book back and forth on the central line. 

 In light of the popularity of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (season two of which, I am loving and seriously recommend watching if you haven't already), and Naomi Alderman's The Power, Red Clocks came to my attention in Stylist magazine a few months back when referenced as a novel that keeps within the topical genre of dystopian gender exploration; it's point of difference being that it hones in on the rules and regulations put in place around fertility in particular, but woven into a society incredibly similar to our own. Following the lives of four women, all notably referenced at first by their roles vs. their actual names (the daughter, the wife...), we learn about their lives in the town of fictional Newville; a small fishing town in Oregon that is undergoing new legislations around pregnancy. 

In short, abortion is illegal, and those that pursue abortion are held accountable for murder, or conspiracy to commit murder (if they get caught before). In fact, between America and Canada, a 'pink wall' is put in place to stop those who are travelling to escape these laws.  IVF is similarly against the law, the reason being that an embryo cannot consent to being transferred from a lab sample to a uterus. Lastly, the Every Child Needs Two act comes into activation throughout the novel, meaning that adoption is only an option for married couples. We learn that this idea was conceived in the hope that this restriction will reduce criminals, poverty and so on in future generations... 

If you're planning on reading this soon, there are lots of spoilers nigh on this page, so come back after to compare your thoughts to mine...

Abortion, law, pro-choice... sounds familiar, right? The book plays out some of the potential consequences and repercussions of what we're on the cusp of today, and you can't help but put yourself in the shoes of these women, and realise that you'd be going through basically the same thing if these were our laws. This must be why the novel is particularly resonating, because what these women face is so real (for lack of a better word), given the laws that are still in place in some countries are echoing of the ones that Zumas orchestrates as 'fiction' and the premise of a fictional book. Debates on legalising abortion that we see today are not miles away from the one that threatens to condemn Mattie to lifelong imprisonment for terminating her pregnancy; in both scenarios, it is still a crime punishable by law. Zumas has said herself, some of the details of Red Clocks have been taken from propositions that are being made by politicians even today, and you can't help but think that these propositions are suggestions made by men who have little awareness of the consequences this would incur. 

I've read reviews that question Susan's place in the novel, The Wife, seemingly unaffected by Newville's new laws, having conceived her children naturally within a seemingly 'happy' marriage. However, the laws seem secondary to the bigger question of the novel that is - what is a woman for? Susan is fulfilled in all the ways that society would expect her to be, and yet she's constantly battling with the voice in her head that's telling her to get out, leave her family, including her children. She's the subject of Ro's envy for having children in the first place; and it's interesting how these laws further instil yet another reason for women to feel in competition with eachother, highlighting how we go straight to jealously over happiness when something happens to a friend. Be it a new job or an engagement, it's the impending sense of, when will this happen to me, that isn't good for anyone involved. It's the way in which we hear the thoughts of these characters - like this - that's refreshingly real; especially envy and lust in particular. 

I think Ro, The Biographer, is the most developed character, most memorable and relatable. Her story is desperately sad, she begins to resent the women around her who can have what she can't, and the one for who the term 'clock' is most apt with the countdown to the Every Child Needs Two law, and her own biological clock. The irony is the woman she most admires is an explorer, who she says herself would not have made the discoveries she did had she been at home, looking after children. I can't say I completely got all the extracts from the explorers biography that were woven in between the chapters; the exerts about lamb slaughter and ice blocks... I'm sure have a poignant reason to be there, but I was much more invested in the main character development and what's going on inside their heads. The 'story' eeks into our 'yep, this could happen' conscience and I think it's this feeling that makes it more sinister than other fictional reads that are potentially more shocking or scary like THT; the notion of 'dystopia' is coming eerily close to our reality - and that is a scary thought to have!  

If you've read Red Clocks, please let me know what you thought! You can buy Red Clocks here

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