Two young women, Yolanda and Verla, awake in dingy cells with no memory of how they got there. Slowly waking from their drugged sleep, they realise they are not alone. Ten girls in all, shepherded into the Outback, surrounded by an electrified fence, watched over by menacing guards. And no way out.
Their hair shaved and heads covered by bonnets, they’re forced to do hard labour in the sweltering sun. Eventually they come to realise why they are there – each of them has been involved in some sort of high profile sex scandal with a powerful man, and whether willing or otherwise they have been judged and condemned.
But then the food starts running out, and the power goes off, and their jailers find themselves as stuck there as the prisoners. Each woman finds a different way to survive, some depending on nature, some on the men, and others in a world of fantasy.
I don’t really know what to make of this book. It has left me with too many questions to say I enjoyed it. I am not sure what its purpose is or what it’s trying to say. Is it an analogy for the current state of the world, how women are prisoners under patriarchy but don’t try to escape it? Don’t fight it hard enough? Is it condemning us for our acceptance and what we get out of it? (Spoilers, but the women basically sell their souls at the end for some designer goods.) I know it’s commenting on the current treatment of women who speak out about their abuses – not believed, shunned, etc, but the way these characters act within the prison doesn’t always leave room for sympathy. Partly because they ask no questions whatsoever, they do not fight back, they just go along with it. Their captors are two seemingly weak men with limited weapons and a drugged up ‘nurse’. Yes there’s an electric fence and they’re in the middle of nowhere but they don’t ask about that either. There’s no discussions between the women, no camaraderie, they each fall into roles and mostly keep to themselves, so we learn little about their lives outside this place. And they’re quick to turn on each other, so it’s not a fun depiction to read. And maybe that’s how it would be, I don’t know. Again it surprises me that I am maybe too optimistic about the nature of women that I didn’t believe what I was being shown.
And (again spoilers) at the end, after all they have been through, when ‘salvation’ comes, they blindly follow, never asking questions or demanding to know why they have been treated this way or what will happen next. A man just waves luxury items in front of them and they get on a bus to who knows where (most likely a grim end). And this doesn’t make sense to me either. Why bother moving them? Why not just leave them there to die? It’d happen eventually. The only reason is to give two of the characters a possibility of escape. And only a possibility since it ends there, with us unknowing. But it’s not an escape of their own making, it was handed to them.
The writing itself is accomplished, if overly descriptive for my liking and so I found myself skipping as it went on, but I would have liked more from the characters, and more in way of explanation, even if that mystery is part of the point. It felt at times like it was trying to be a Handmaid’s Tale (even down to the head coverings) but didn’t come close to matching it for me.