Read from April 25 to 29, 2016
Synopsis: The Fifteens of Stone House have reached Attainment: the day a girlie may Beseech for the privilege of serving as a Perfected womanidol in the Orchid Nursery. When vivacious, irreverent Pearl goes missing, pious Mica hopes fervently that her friend has been chosen for Perfection and has not, as she fears, absconded from the State. Mica feels bound by love and duty to seek Pearl — to save her from punishment if she is caught by the Ecumen or, worse, if she has left Civilisation.
Mica’s search will take her into a frightening physical and moral terrain where insurgents and outcasts are still fighting a strategic war against the clerical regime. But first Mica must bring herself to violate the secret–sacred space that is the Orchid Nursery.
Through its youthful protagonists The Orchid Nursery explores sexual politics and the co-opting of religion to perpetrate extremes of misogyny, violence, control and obliteration of the cultural and historical record. It also sees the possibility of hope emerging from the worst kind of dystopia.
Bookish Things: 224 pages. The cover is insidiously beautiful to lure you in.
Where to buy: Amazon on kindle for $4.77 or paperback for $20.00.
The Orchid Nursery contains within its pretty covers, a vicious and unflinching dystopian Australia. One where women have been bred to follow scriptures and beliefs that they should serve men, they should long to be ‘Perfected’.
When girls (or girlies as they are called in the book) live under the supervision of an augmented dorm mother in dormitories that bare sexually charged titles and the girls are named after dirt, rocks and wood. Not to mention the horrendous scriptures the girls are led to believe and are brainwashed into not just following, but actively embracing.
For any woman in this day and age, the near-future world that Katz created will rankle and burn as your eyes grate over each word.
But, while the story is a bitter flavored pill to swallow, the writing, oh, my. The writing is superb.
One scene Mica, our pious little narrator, experiences is one of the most chillingly horrific scenes I’ve read (and I’ve read some whizz bang horror!) in all my born days. Yet, the way in which it was written drew me in, caressed my inner editor and led her merrily down the garden path. I was so conflicted. I loved it and hated it in the same breath.
Few authors have had this level of impact on me as a reader, and even fewer have been able to get me to check my hatred for open misogyny at the door and swallow my anger.
I should have hated this book for all the hateful crap it spouts (the world, not Katz – let me be clear here!) yet I was drawn in, wanting to understand how a world that decayed and broken could ever have come from anything resembling ours.
What I found, much to my dismay, is that Katz’s vision and how they wound up that way, was not completely unbelievable. As much as I wanted to deny it, I can see us making similar mistakes. Taking similar steps into the fiery furnace.
Aside from inflicting extremely conflicting emotions in me, this book provides solid (albeit flawed) characters, it paints a picture of real people, ones filled with good intentions but are forced to make devastating decisions.
It highlights the way in which society can change in one moment, and how we deal with that change may make or break our world.
And it delivers such strong messages about what consequences our decisions have, not just to ourselves, but possibly, those around us too. And of course, it can’t be all bleak and darkness, there’s a tiny slice of hope and optimism that pokes it’s head up too, which rounds out the novel delightfully.
I have never read anything remotely similar to this book, though others are likening it the Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I am yet to read it, so I can’t comment on that.
I don’t know if I really love this book or I hate it, but it’s a five star read from me because of how much it has made me think about the ideals and themes in this book, and also for the beautifully crafted writing and amazingly complex characters.
One warning, there’s quite a lot of swearing, and frequent use for the c-bomb and other synonyms. Not recommended for younger audiences.
**Note: I won a paperback copy of this book through the GoodReads FirstReads competition**