The Female Man by Joanna Russ
Genre: Science Fiction
Publishing Info: 2010 by Gollancz (first published 1975)
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she’s a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.
The idea for this book is brilliant, but I was too confused all the way through to be able to really enjoy it. I liked the concept of exploring the restricted lives of women through parallel universes. What’s amazing to me is that this book was published in 1975, and some of the issues women face in the book are still around today.
It’s very imaginative and the parallel worlds are unique and captured my attention. The world building is creative for the two parallel worlds that are vastly different from Earth. Whileaway is clear, but the two worlds that are very similar to our Earth were a bit confusing. I wasn’t really sure at all times exactly which version of Earth they were on. There are some really vivid images throughout the book, so that I could imagine these unusual alternative universes.
From the start I was confused. I couldn’t figure out who the first person narrator was. At some points I thought it might have changed to another character but I didn’t really have a clue. It also doesn’t help that all four characters have names beginning with J, though that is because they are parallel versions of the same person, it just added to the confusion.
Some of the problem was that the sections of the book are split into really short ‘chapters’, some of which are only a paragraph or even a sentence long. Many of the short ones were confusing because they weren’t long enough for me to get my head around what was going on. Whereas the chapters that were a few pages meant the scenes were long enough for me to be grounded in the scene and get my head around what was happening.
As it went along I did have more understanding of each of the central characters, but even in the last quarter of the book there were times where I was confused about what was happening. The reveal in the last part of the book wasn’t much of a twist unfortunately, as I read what happened in the Introduction (I hate it when they do that). It possibly would have been more exciting if I’d had no idea what was going to happen. Though if I hadn’t known from the explanation in the Introduction maybe I would have been even more confused!
My enjoyment of the book was greatly hindered by the fact I was so confused all the way through. It also hindered the impact the book could have had upon closing the cover at the end, because I was still trying to get my head around what on Earth was going on (literally). It would probably make more sense upon a second read, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to put my brain through the hard slog that is wading through this book again.