The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall

The Carhullan Army Note: This book is also known as Daughters of the North

Five words from the blurb: escape, repressive, world, women, remote

I loved Haweswater and How to Paint a Dead Man, so have been keen to try some of Sarah Hall’s other books. The Carhullan Army is a dystopian novel, set in the near future. Like her other novels it is set in Cumbria and follows a young women as she decides to leave her home town of Rith (Penrith) and seek out a group of women living outside the controls of the repressive government, on the Lake District Fells.

I loved the beginning of this book. As usual Sarah Hall’s writing was of a very high standard, creating a vivid world packed with oppressive atmosphere.

It was hard to imagine all the people behind the bricks, sleeping two and three to a room, or lying awake, talking softly so as not to disturb the other families. Some of them crying, being comforted or ignored. Some not caring who heard them through the walls, pushing away from a sore body as the hits of cheap ephedrine began to wear off. Each time I had ventured out in preparation, these dawns seemed to have an atmosphere of reduction, as if there had been a cull, not a condensing of the people.

Unfortunately things went downhill as the book progressed. Once the women on the fells had been found the plot died and I lost interest in what was happening. The focus of the book turned to the relationships of the women, but they hadn’t been introduced in enough depth for me to care about them. Some sex scenes (both lesbian and straight) were thrown in, but they added nothing to the plot.

The ending of the book was very strange. Some fantastic plot elements were reduced to a single paragraph when they would have benefited from being developed into entire chapters. It all felt rushed and a bit of an anticlimax after all the build up.

I’m afraid that this book didn’t add any original ideas to the dystopian genre and although it contained a few fantastic scenes I’d recommend reading Sarah Hall’s other novels instead.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

gripping from the beginning to the end. Vishy’s Blog

With a bit of a polish it would make a good TV series. The Marple Leaf

Carhullan Army is a quietly powerful novel that lives long in the mind. Follow the Thread



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  1. Sandy says:

    I look to you as an excellent critic of books that can’t maintain their level of interest from beginning to end. It seems many just can’t pull that off! Like they get a great idea but run out of steam somewhere in the middle. I’ve not read anything by this author…yet. Working on getting a reading clone.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Lots of books seem to be able to pull the reader in at the beginning, but maintaining that connection takes great skill (or perhaps the piles of other books I have to read mean that I am less patient than other readers?) I’d love you to try Sarah Hall at some point, but I’m not sure you’ll fall in love with her in the same way I have – I think the regional connection adds to my appreciation a lot.

      Good luck with the reading clone – I need one of those too!

  2. David says:

    It’s a while since I read this (2007) so it isn’t at all fresh in my memory but I do remember the ending feeling a bit rushed and something of a cop-out. I think this was noted in a lot of the reviews in the press at the time too. I also agree about it not being hugely original, though I liked it well enough. I’ve been reading Sarah Hall’s books since the start (I bought and read ‘Haweswater’ within a week or two of it coming out) and after her first two very lyrical novels ‘The Carhullan Army’ came as something of a shock – her style seemed suddenly pared back and blunt, almost brutal, but that also fitted with the subject I think. I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of ‘How to Paint a Dead Man’ at all, but her recent collection of short stories, ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ (shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor) is very good indeed.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I only discovered Sarah Hall a few years ago, but I’m making steady progress through her back catalogue. I’m afraid I’m not a big fan of short stories so I’ve been avoiding her latest, but I have heard a lot of positive things about it. I hope she goes back to historical fiction as Haweswater was outstanding. Glad to know you’re following her career closly too!

      1. David says:

        I’d like to see her write another historical novel too, Jackie – the short story collection does contain one historical, and it is possibly my favourite in the book, so maybe she hasn’t completely left the past behind.

        1. Jackie says:

          David, Good to hear that she still has an interest in historical fiction. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that she writes another soon.

  3. Kathleen says:

    I have to be in the right mood to entertain reading a dystopian novel. I just find that so many of them have the same premise and always imagine the world as being a terrible place.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I love dystopian novels which might partly explain my lack of enthusiasm for this one – I’ve read so many that I require something new/special to fall in love with it.

      1. Ifi says:

        Shame. I love dystopian too. But as you say, it needs something new / special (original!!) So 3.5 stars for this book seems rather generous on your part.

        Won’t be reading this one.

        1. Jackie says:

          Ifi, The 3.5 star rating reflects the writing quality and a few good scenes. It isn’t a terrible book, just an average one.

  4. I also love dystopian novels and gave this book 5 stars. But… I read it 2 years ago when I had really just discovered dystopia. So I think part of my rating was for the new-found genre. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, It is a wonderful genre, but it is hard to create something new/outstanding within it. Hopefully I’ll find a good one soon.

  5. Pussreboots says:

    Even though the plot didn’t hold your interest, I’m intrigued enough by your review to add it to my wishlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      Pussreboots, I’m glad I was able to put across the positives of this book. I hope that you enjoy it.

  6. Kailana says:

    I am not even sure if I have heard of Sarah Hall before. I will have to check out the other books you mention. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I’m pleased I was able to introduce you to her – she is an amazing writer. :-)

  7. I wasn’t aware of this Sarah Hall title. Sorry it wasn’t more appealing for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I think there is a reason why this is one of her lesser known titles ;-) I’d stick to her others.

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