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What I read: The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings

About this book

(Blurb from Pan MacMillan SA)

Reminiscent of the works of Margaret Atwood, Deborah Harkness, and Octavia E. Butler, The Women Could Fly is a feminist speculative novel that speaks to our times. A piercing dystopian tale about the unbreakable bond between a young woman and her absent mother, set in a world in which magic is real and single women are closely monitored in case they are shown to be witches . . .

Josephine Thomas has heard every conceivable theory about her mother’s disappearance. That she was kidnapped. Murdered. That she took on a new identity to start a new family. That she was a witch. This is the most worrying charge, because in a world where witches are real, peculiar behaviour raises suspicions and a woman – especially a Black woman – can find herself on trial for witchcraft.

But fourteen years have passed since her mother’s disappearance, and now Jo is finally ready to let go of the past. Yet her future is in doubt. The State mandates that all women marry by the age of thirty – or enrol in a registry that allows them to be monitored, effectively forfeiting their autonomy. At twenty-eight, Jo is ambivalent about marriage. With her ability to control her life on the line, she feels as if she has her never understood her mother more. When she’s offered the opportunity to honour one last request from her mother’s will, Jo leaves her regular life to feel connected to her one last time.

My Thoughts

Set in a dystopian United States, this is such a thought-provoking book.

It is set in a world where witches are real.  And, if you are female, especially a black female, you are even more feared and likely to be a witch.  As you can figure out, being a witch is seen as dangerous and menacing.

The protagonist, Josephine (Jo) is 28 years old.  Her mother went missing 14 years ago.  But Jo has got more than a couple of “problems” to deal with.  Apart from the fact that she is growing up without her mother and having to cope with the emotional turmoil of not knowing what happened to her mother, she is also approaching the age of 30.  This is the age where, in this gender oppressed world where women always need a “man” to always watch over for them, they need to be married or risk losing all their independence (or the little they have) to the bureaucracy.  This fact even has got an effect on her ability to keep her job.

The fact that her mother, who were also seen as “different” and non-conformist, may have been a witch, adds to the pressure.  Does it mean that she is also possibly a witch?  Will it help her to get married (to a man, only heterosexual marriages are allowed) to prove that she isn’t?  Females are constantly being monitored, thus need to be hyperaware of how they present themselves as to not be labelled as a witch.  Even family members are obliged to report any suspicious behaviour to the government.  As you can imagine, the punishment for witches is severe.

“Women start receiving pamphlets from the state at age eighteen. We are told starting at fourteen to monitor ourselves for signs of magical expression. Floating while sleeping, lights consistently flickering as we walk beneath them, unconsciously repeating ourselves three times, having a desire to eat raw meat, hearing voices others can’t hear, wanting to teach other people cruel lessons. At school, we are separated from the boys for classes about menstruation, our changing bodies, and what we should do if we ever feel like we are being swayed toward the dark one’s path. Our parents could opt us out of health classes, but no one could miss any of the classes about checking ourselves and our peers for witchcraft.”

The underlying social commentary, especially w.r.t racism, sexism, and homophobia, doesn’t feel that far-fetched.  Unfortunately, it is too real as to what we experience in the world today.

“I told her how we had thought social media were going to be these great places where everyone could connect, where we could learn things and share all our little comments about TV shows without annoying the people watching with us, where there were no limits to the possibilities of language. Then, it became mostly like almost everything else that people touched. White, thin, conventionally attractive people amassed power, white men continued to assert their dominance because they were afraid of change, and sometimes between white people talking over them and being racist, Black people got to be funny.”

Even the men who are more “enlightened”, are very much pressured and shaped by the legal and social norms of this society, so is there hope?

I found “The Women Could Fly” dark and emotional.  It also reminded me of “When Women Were Dragons” by Kelly Barnhill.  The fact the women have no autonomy and are constantly monitored and policed, with the punishment to be non-conformist being severe, was quite triggering.  Can I mention “Roe v Wade” here, in the same breath?   I thoroughly enjoyed this deeply reflective book!

RRR (Roelia Reads Rating) 7/10

With thanks to Pan MacMillan SA for the opportunity to read this book.

The Details

Publication Date:  11 August 2022
ISBN:  9781035001590
288 pages, Paperback

About the author

Megan Giddings:  http://www.megangiddings.com/