Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (a rave than a review)

IMG_4477Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks is easily one of my favourite books of the year. It’s a brilliant, incredibly thought-provoking and simply exquisite novel. It’s been shelved as dystopia/science fiction and it’s really none of that. It’s mildly speculative at best, contemporary, and as Zumas calls it, a ‘para-topian’ novel, set very much in today’s society. The only change being, an act has been passed in the United States called the Personhood Amendment, by which a fertilized single-celled zygote is considered a legal citizen with the right to liberty and life. This would mean that abortion is now illegal (considered as murder) and in-vitro fertilization is banned as the embryo hasn’t given consent to be relocated into a womb. The surprising fact is that such an amendment was actually proposed in the United States, and there were a minority of loyal followers who wanted it implemented. So is it that far from reality? Not really.
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Zumas deconstructs the repercussions of such a law through 4 main points of view. The biographer, the mender, the wife and the daughter. In categorizing these characters by their roles, Zumas creates such a powerful narrative choice, resonant of the fact that society has stripped women of their reproductive rights. Stripped them of agency over their own bodies, reducing them to the roles they play. But in doing so, she doesn’t compensate in character development and neither does it feel like a gimmick. These characters are wholly realized, empathetic and complex individuals. You also get to know more about them, their names & such from another person’s point of view.
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The biographer is a secondary school history teacher who is also writing the biography of a 19th century female Arctic explorer. Snippets from the biography are presented at the start of every chapter. Though this may seem unrelated at the start, it’s brilliant to see the thematic links as the novel progresses. The mender is possibly the most fascinating POV (and the most experimentally written). She’s a herbal woman, a midwife, a naturalist, a modern-day witch, an iconoclast of sorts who doesn’t fit into the moulds of modern society.
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I can see how the writing can be a little too experimental for some. It’s spare, stripped back, with a kind of poetic cadence. It took a short while for me to warm up to her writing but once I got the groove of it, I was completely engulfed. So I’d say give yourself 20-25 pages to get accustomed to her style, and if you’re not enjoying it by then, this book is possibly not for you.
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Red Clocks is so much more than an examination of the implications of such a law if it were to exist. The process of unpacking the myriad ways women are impacted, if at all (there are women in this novel who are oblivious and don’t care) is so gratifying to read, so realistic, so thorough, so endearing. Zumas is not trying to say the solution is to support abortion, but rather to support choice. The most fundamental and basic right of control of one’s own body.
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I feel I haven’t done much justice to the novel in my review. There is so much to dissect, so much to unpack and I’m barely making a dent. But I have managed to stir your interest, you probably should go and read this book.
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Rating: 5/5

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