Sarah Hall was on Radio 4’s Bookclub programme this afternoon, discussing her novel The Carhullan Army. I rather agree with Niall over at Torque Control on the matter of that novel’s quality, although I’m not sure that the readers asking Hall questions were quite so bowled over – at least one just came out and said that they were frustrated by it. Her criticism was one which was made at the time of the book’s publication: The Carhullan Army is a short novel, and refuses to paint in very much of its background detail. It instead focuses, as Hall explains in the programme, on the emotional journey of its nameless point-of-view character, Sister, and on a gritty, earthy sense of place.
At least in part, this unconventional approach to speculative worldbuilding is explained by a slightly surprising admission Hall makes in conversation with James Naughtie: she has never read 1984. Everyone should read the book for purely political reasons, of course; but when Niall writes about the force of the novel’s “entry into the discourse of feminist utopia/dystopia”, he chooses his modifier wisely: Hall has read The Handmaid’s Tale, not George Orwell. Hall makes reference to the ‘dialogue’ of science fiction, but is vaguer on her own place within it.
The programme’s well worth a listen.