In a not-so-distant future, abortion is once again illegal in America. Red Clocks explores the impact of these laws on five women living in a rural Oregon fishing town: The Biographer, The Explorer, The Daughter, The Mender, and The Wife. Ro is a single high school teacher trying to have a baby with the help of a sperm donor whilst writing the biography of a little-known arctic explorer, Eivør Minervudottir. Her fifteen-year-old student, Mattie, is pregnant and desperate for help, which she seeks from Gin, a witch that lives in the forest providing nature-based treatments for the town’s ailments. Finally, Susan is a mother-of-two stuck in a stalemate of a marriage.
Unlike other reproductive dystopias I’ve read, most notably The Handmaid’s Tale, which Red Clocks has found itself inevitably compared to, this book takes a more micro approach to the topic, focusing on a small intertwined group of women and the domestic impact of restricting abortion. The extent to which Zumas extends this dystopia is little past our own reality, which makes its realism even more unsettling. However, this approach fell short for me. I felt that the impact of these laws would be more so than what Red Clocks illustrates, and two of the characters are not even impacted at all, as far as I can tell. Susan’s narrative felt out of place and unrelated to the wider story, and I have no idea what purpose The Explorer’s narrative served. I wasn’t particularly attached to or interested in any of the characters, and there was something about the writing style that made the prose seem choppy and jarring. Ultimately, like a few novels I’ve read recently, Red Clocks‘ unwarranted comparison to a modern classic does more damage than good to its reception.
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Read for the Magical Readathon, Defence Against the Dark Arts exam.