Monday, January 24, 2011

My Take On: Nomansland by Lesley Hauge

Sometime in the future, after devastating wars and fires, a lonely, windswept island in the north is populated solely by women. Among these women is a group of teenaged Trackers—expert equestrians and archers—whose job is to protect their shores from the enemy. The enemy, they’ve been told, is men.
When these girls come upon a partially buried home from the distant past, they are fascinated by the strange objects—high-heeled shoes, teen magazines, make-up—found there. What are they to make of these mysterious things, which introduce a world they have never known? And what does it mean for their strict society where friendship is forbidden and rules must be obeyed—at all costs?
Reminiscent of The Giver but with a feminist twist, Nomansland is a powerful, shocking story that will challenge young readers’ perspectives and provoke much discussion over the timely and controversial issues presented.

Nomansland is a love it or hate kind of book. You're either going to love the symbolism and thought provoking nature of it, or you're going to hate the lack of action and dialogue-driven writing.
Personally, I loved it. Based on the synopsis, I was expecting more action. I mean, it's about teenaged equestrian archers fighting off men, right? Yes and no.

The story is a first person account of Keller, a young Novice Tracker, who discovers that the world she knew isn't what it seems. The writing was without flourish, but then, so was Keller and the world she lived in. The landscape was as harsh and grey as the society she was raised in; iron skies to match the iron fists.
What really makes this book stand out to me is the thought provoking views of femininity and the question: What does it mean to be a woman? To some members of the austere Foundland society, it means sneaking into the nursery where the girl children live to sing them to sleep; to others it means pinching your cheeks till their quite red in a forbidden attempt to look beautiful; but to most of the women, it is a mystery.
Keller was raised thinking that anything "feminine" was evil; they call these evils Pitfalls. There are seven Pitfalls: reflection, decoration, coquetry, triviality, vivacity, compliance, and sensuality. It is these seven rules that give the women their identity and keep them from dwelling on such trivial things as vanity and friendship, yet at the same time they cause their lives to be trivial and empty in a different way. The Pitfalls are seen as the very root of the weakness from the Time Before that Keller's society tries so hard to forget. Their women are one, they are unified, they are strong. Yet they are lonely. And they have no idea of the true power of women because they are raised in fear of their true selves, of every womanly inclination.

In this society, girls are raised from birth to fear men, who were portrayed as slavering barbarian animals bent on savaging and conquering them and their island. They live a delicate balance between fear and loyalty. I'd say that there was a certain level of Stockholm-Syndrome going on in this tale because Keller both loved her society and was willing to toil and even die for it, yet she lived in constant fear that the leaders would come bearing the Seed or that they would be locked away in the Darkness, possibly never to return, or else receive cruel beatings. Their society practiced a variety of evils that I found appalling, the most offensive of which pertained to the murder of all male infants and the forced impregnation of chosen women, though these points were veiled or not really spoken of. They were incredibly, and realistically, taboo.
There were many views of femininity portrayed in this novel--from out and out fear and misunderstanding of it, to the vain embrace of beauty as the pinnacle of it, to a disordered view that one sex can exist completely without the other, and even a healthy view of masculinity and femininity's compatibility. I feel that all sides were told here; from rational to irrational; from true womanliness to extreme, radical feminism. For me, reading from a Christian perspective, I found the most normal, healthy, and true understanding of what it means to be a woman in those characters who, despite the threat of punishment and the fear that they were raised with, discovered that man and woman were not meant to be enemies. They complement each other because they were made for each other, and one cannot live solely without the other, not in the way that the Foundlanders did.
I give Nomansland...
...five zombies!
I was afraid Nomansland would be a thinly veiled feminist rant about how women don't really need men or how they can deny their nature, but I need not have been worried. The moral of this story is that womanhood is a uniquely powerful blessing. Some people make it seem like a burden or a disease, and that makes me sick, but Hauge portrayed womanhood as being a strength and, ultimately, that woman cannot exist without man, and vice versa. That's what makes this one of the best books I read in 2010.

1 comment:

Mad Scientist said...

This is a book I'd really like to read! It has been on my list, radar for awhile but I just have not jumped at it yet.


Please do stop by for a spot of tea or to browse over my new Steampunkery review up... Clockworks and Corsets.

Mad Scientist
Steampunkery & Book Reviews
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