The Carhullan Army


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May 20, by Vishy. Most of the reviews raved about the author and this book. I went and got the book, but postponed reading it for later.

The Carhullan Army

Unfortunately, all the books ended up on my bookshelf, unread. Those book acquiring sprees were crazy.


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  • Sarah Hall (writer).

I am glad I am out of them now. It had all the things I was looking for at that point — a comfortable size which is not very long pages , comfortable font-size and an attractive first paragraph. I read the first page and it was gripping and before I knew I had dived deep into the book and came out only after I had finished it. Here is what I think. An unnamed woman narrates her story as it happened at this time. She calls herself Sister and refuses to reveal her real name.

She seems to be in prison and the story seems to be her confession. Sister has one of the meaningless jobs in a nearby factory. Her husband Andrew works at the refinery. Their marriage is falling apart. One day the government decides that all women should wear contraceptive devices. Sister tries postponing her turn, but she is not able to do it for long. She feels violated. She thinks about all this for a while.

She wants to escape from her situation — from the meaningless job, from the restrictive life, from her joyless marriage. She has heard of a place called Carhullan where there is a commune of women who have managed to create a self-sustaining way of life. Sister yearns to go away from home and join this commune. One day she gets up early, leaves her home and journeys towards Carhullan.

She is treated as an enemy and she is put in isolation. But she survives that. When the women who run the commune at Carhullan discover that Sister has come there to join the commune, her isolation ends. She is warmly welcomed, is made to feel part of the commune and she finds something useful to do.

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She even falls in love — with another woman. A dark cloud hovers over the horizon and the women of Carhullan have to decide how to handle the threat. What they do and whether this ideal community survives forms the rest of the story. I liked the main character Sister and how the story describes her escape from the confines of her life into a new world and how it transforms her as a person. I also liked the way the love between her and another person in the commune, Shruti, is depicted.

The last sentence in the book gave me goose bumps. One thing which comes to the top of my mind when I think of this book is that it was gripping from the beginning to the end. It was a real page-turner. I also felt another thing when I read the book.

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One of the things I discovered about English women writers was that in their books, the plot always came first. Her second collection, Madame Zero, will be published in Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She is a member of the Royal Society of Literature. She has judged a number of prestigious literary awards and prizes. She has tutored for the Faber Academy, The Guardian, the Arvon Foundation, and has taught creative writing in a variety of establishments in the UK and abroad. Sarah currently lives in Norwich, Norfolk.


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    The Carhullan Army : Sarah Hall :

    The perks. Sign up. There are more types of torture than simply the physical — what if Sister's story, the story of Carhullan — was given under duress? Or, perhaps worse, what if it was given to provide this government insight into how these communities worked, so they could more effectively break them apart? This was the beginning: English Authority Penal System archive — record no. Compare that to how it's reframed in the parenthetical: Unrestricted Powers. The first suggests protection of a citizenship while the second name it for what it is: the ability to do whatever they want.

    This made me suspicious about the skips in time. I found how they were communicated interesting: [Data Lost]. This suggested that not only was Sister telling her story to someone who was recording it, someone else was reading the story being told which had possibly been recorded and transcribed, or transcribed outright and it had suffered from some kind of issue that resulted in the loss of parts of the story. I wondered, after I finished the book, what the gaps in the data meant. Going back to the quote, this data was "recovered".

    Not found, but recovered. What did Jackie and her Carhullan Army start with their war, their refusal "to recognize the jurisdiction of this government"? I think these gaps in data paint a suspicious picture of, perhaps, how widespread this war was going to be, and what resulted from their war in the end from the people whose perspectives we don't see: anyone from this government, the civilians living within it, or the people who "recovered" Sister's data.

    Is the steady, luxurious nature of the narrative, a story given by Sister under either duress or a reprieve from some duress, a way to disguise a story that Hall is telling in the negative space of the novel? Jodie : I think for me the combination of 'recovered' and the full account Sister gives in the early sections at first suggested that the government had some way of extracting the information right out of her head. At the end of the novel Sister is instructed to only give away a very small amount of information and yet she gives such a detailed account in the early parts of the novel, but then what seems to be a vital part of her information goes missing.

    It almost felt like a form of psychic resistance on one level, like she'd destroyed the memory herself and it couldn't be extracted from her mind.

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    But I hadn't really considered the idea that her story might be being read by a third party after the government made the initial recording. In the first section she seems to speak so directly to whoever is in the room with her and that sort of directed my focus towards noticing just the one on one exchange: 'My name is Sister. This is the name that was given to me three years ago.

    It is what others called me. It is what I call myself.

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    Before that my name was unimportant. I can't remember it being used. I will not answer to it now, or hear myself say it outloud. I will not sign to acknowledge it. It is gone. You will call me Sister.

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