The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings from @panmacmillan

The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings

MacMillan, pb, £7.91

Reviewed by Melody Bowles

The front cover for The Women Could Fly. The background is dark blue. There is a woman with golden skin looking away from us in the bottom third of the page. She has a lot of black hair streaked with gold that is blown upwards taking up the rest of the page.

The Women Could Fly is narrated by Josephine, who lives in a world where people still accuse women of being witches. Josephine is twenty-eight years old and really ought to be married now. As she is not, she must register with the government and have a male relative sign off that she is not a witch. The deck is stacked against Josephine even further by her mother’s disappearance when she was a teenager. People have long suspected Josephine is the daughter of a witch, which might well make her one too.

This dystopian premise brings to mind the descriptions of how The Handmaid’s Tale Gilead was formed by gradually eroding women’s rights. The story’s thrust is very different, but the premises feel related. Both dystopian worlds have the view minorities are dangerous and must be crushed. The world of The Women Could Fly is more insidious, sowing suspicion and fear under the guise of keeping people safe from the almighty witches. It’s hauntingly effective.

The book’s pace picks up slowly, with a welcome twist in the middle bringing new light to the narrative. It is told from Josephine’s perspective. As a character, she is very introspective and talks about the compromises she’s made to keep herself safe. The horror is creeping and gradual before the more fantastical elements bring it to the forefront later. The imagery – for example, bird skeletons raining from the sky – is lovely and macabre.

Josephine’s relationships with her mother, father, best friend, and lovers are the cornerstones of the book. Each one is explored in intricate detail with realistic, relatable touches. The book as a whole explores how much choice one has over their identity and raises some interesting questions. Does who we are come from our parents, our friends, or the people we choose to love? Or perhaps our race, gender, or sexuality? Is identity something innate, or can we change it at will?

If you are looking for a thoughtful, feminist dystopia, The Women Could Fly is the book to choose.

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