The Books of My Numberless Dreams

How did she do it?

Posted on: March 5, 2008

Within minutes I found myself back inside the iron enclosure, scratching at the knots of rope securing my wrists, trying to move oxygen smoothly into my chest, trying to calm myself. The ground was pliant and warm under my bare feet. A smell of fresh shit rose from the floor, as if it had been spread there for my arrival.


Despair rose up in me, sick as bile, but I swallowed it back down. I concentrated, repeating the instructions I had been given. Talk to yourself. Sleep, even shallowly. Sing. Find patterns on the walls: flowers, birds, faces.

For three days it worked. I saw letters drawn in the darkness in front of me. The words floated like red flares on the black. Then the water ran out and dehydration started to make me unstable. The same terrible images came walking back towards me, like prodigal ghosts, as if they had been waiting in the darkness of the corrugated coffin for me to reanimate them.


On the seventh day I was dragged back across the courtyard to one of the small stone pens. The women from the unit interrogating me were dressed in dark clothing, masked. I thought I recognised Corky but I was weak and disoriented and could not be sure of anything. There were no apologies given. I was stripped, hit in the kidneys, and burned. One of them pushed a pipe a little way into me and told me I was a whore. They left me locked inside the pen, curled up and moaning on the floor, and another four women entered. Jackie was with them.

She smiled down at me, a gentle, sympathetic smile, and I saw in her blue eyes that the love she had for me was that of a mother. In her hand was a plate of cooked breakfast: bacon, eggs and bread. The yolks bloomed. She crouched down, set the meal on the floor at her feet and sniffed loudly. ‘That smells so good,’ she said. Then she took a rasher of bacon and waved it in front of my face. I lurched for it but the others pulled me back. She put the crisp silver back on the plate and licked the grease from her fingers. ‘Mmm.’ Her voice was soft and compassionate. ‘What’s my name, Sister?’ I looked up at her, pleading with her to stop. ‘If you tell me my name you can eat this. If you tell me the names of all of us here, you are free to go, right now.’

It was no better and no worse than the treatment I gave the others, when the roles were reversed. It was no better and no worse than the treatment soldiers had always undergone in preparation for deployment. And Jackie saw to it that we were no different from them.

She did not make monsters of us. She simply gave us the power to remake ourselves into those inviolable creatures the God of Equality had intended us to be. We knew she was deconstructing the old disabled versions of our sex, and that her ruthlessness was adopted because those constructs were built to endure. She broke down the walls that had kept us contained. There was a fresh red field on the other side, and in its rich soil were growing all the flowers of war that history had never let us gather. It was beautiful to walk in. As beautiful as the fells that autumn.

From The Carhullan Army aka Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall

How did she do it? I don’t recognise this new Sarah Hall but she kicks ass. She kicks ass so much I’m damn disappointed in the US title change. (I bought the UK edition — about the only advantage of being Commonwealth.) That whole “daughters” thing gives a false, far softer impression of what’s actually on the book’s pages. It’s not even a matter of the book lending a tougher, hardier imaged of motherhood and daughters; it’s that the human figurehead who could feasibly stand in as the “North” is not in the least bit maternal. What she is is a gifted military commander. The single moment in which you could describe her as “maternal” in the book is up in that torture scene excerpted above — in a bloody torture scene. It’s fake.

Not that I want to write out my review here. I officially forgive Sarah Hall for the abomination that was Electric Michelangelo. May you never write such flowery, saccharine horse shit again. Cheers!


10 Responses to "How did she do it?"

I must say I’m interested in this novel now, imani. I’ll be looking forward to reading your review (and thank God for the end of the horse shit!)

Exciting! I’m throwing this on to the TBR mountain RIGHT NOW!!!

Litlove I’m looking forward to reviewing it. It wrestles with all sorts of interesting ideas. I’m especially eager since I read the reviews it received so far and have not been impressed with any. (Have not read the TLS version yet.)

Amanda A yeah! Although you’d have to pre-order it if you’re using an American vendor since it hasn’t been released on your side of the border yet.

Thanks for the head’s up on this. It comes out the beginning of April in the US. It’s going on my list of things to read.

Does anyone get the reasoning behind the title change because I don’t. Maybe they think we American women will think it’s off limits if it has the word “army” in the title. Maybe they should call it “The Carhullan Shop-a-holic” to really get us interested.

Hahaha. I’m guessing they wanted to render it as accessible as possible? The American reader wouldn’t know what the heck was Carhullan was, sounds all foreign, the “army” part puts her off a bit; and the guy who would zoom in on the military title would look at the author name — a girl? wtf? — and read the back — who writes about a girl army? who is she kidding? — and promptly move on to Heinlein or…something. I don’t know.

The American cover for her first novel Haweswater is also a joke of misrepresentation but oh well.

[…] Segundo’s interview with Sarah Hall and buy The Carhullan Army aka Daughters of the North. How can you resist? You shouldn’t. Sarah Weinman agrees! I can’t think of enough good things to say about […]

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