A Dystopian Reading List…
July 25, 2017
There is no denying that dystopian fiction has captured the nation’s imagination. While we have been gripped by a fantastic TV adaption of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power has won the prestigious Bailey’s Prize. Published today by Tinder Press, Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed combines the ideal elements of this genre – an unsettling sense of unease, undeniably compelling, and of course, beautifully written. Red Magazine has deemed it ‘The One Book Everyone Should Read this Month‘ – and we wholeheartedly agree. Below, Jennie gives us her own dystopian recommendations, and then read on for the opening to one of the most deliciously dark books you will read this year…
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lawns (short story) by Mona Simpson
Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
Vanessa dreams she is a grown woman, heavy with flesh and care.
Her two limber, graceful daughters are dancing and leaping on the shore as she watches from the grass where the sand ends. Their dresses flutter chalk-white, like apple flesh or a sun-bleached stone. A calescent sun shatters on the surface of the water, luminous shards slipping about on the tiny waves like a broken, sparkling film. One daughter stops to turn and wave wildly, and Vanessa, her heart aching with love, waves back. The girls clasp each other’s forearms and spin in a circle, shrieking with laughter, until they collapse on the sand.
Rising and conferring with their heads close together, they hike up their dresses to wade into the sea. Don’t go too far! calls Vanessa, but they pretend not to hear. Walking wide-legged like awkward herons, wetting their hems, they peer into the water for fish and crabs, until the younger one turns back and yells, We’re going to swim, Mother!
But you can’t swim! Vanessa cries frantically. Heedless, they crash into the water and begin paddling away, kicking their slender legs and thrashing with their hands. Swiftly, borne by a powerful current, they grow smaller and smaller. Vanessa tries to run to the edge of the sea, but her feet are stuck fast, woven into the ground like tree roots, her legs paralyzed as dead stumps. She opens her mouth to call them back, but instead of urging her daughters back to shore, she finds herself screaming, Swim faster! Get away from here, get out, now! The sun vanishes and the sea turns dark, roiling and spitting, and their beloved faces shrink to motes. Vanessa clenches her fists, closes her eyes, and shrieks, Never come back here again! I’ll kill you if you come back here!
I swear I’ll fucking kill you both! The girls disappear into the horizon, and Vanessa drops her face into her hands and weeps.
Thief, whispers a voice that seems to come from everywhere, echoing and groaning in her rib cage. Blasphemer. The ground softens, and she falls through a sea of dark slime into the raging black fire of the darkness below. Her bones snap like sticks. Rotating her head violently on a broken neck, she sees her daughters writhing next to her, their straight, slim legs bending and shattering as their white dresses burn.
Then Father is there, shaking her, holding her. “Vanessa, relax,” he says as she trembles and whimpers. “It’s just a dream.” She loosens her fists and sees, in the gray dawn light, that she has cut small, dark crescents into her palms.
“What were you dreaming about?” asks Father sleepily.
“I can’t remember,” she replies, and no matter how often the dream comes back to haunt her, smearing and dissolving hotly in her brain as she gasps and claws her way to consciousness, she always tells him she can’t remember. She knows instinctively it is not something to be freely given away to adults, like a flower or an embrace.
This dream, the dark embodiment of blasphemy, is a shameful secret rooted strongly as a tooth or a fingernail. And Father, muttering vaguely as he kisses her sweaty brow, never tries to wrest it from her.
Sometimes, in the drowsy mornings after, she gazes at Mother and wonders what she would call out if Vanessa were swimming away from her, toward the wastelands.