novels about women
The blurbs on the backs:
Five To Twelve
Who Needs Men?
In the 1990s British newspapers were full of articles about the emasculation of men in modern society, and claims that the pendulum of the women’s movement had swung too far. Since part of the function of populist fiction has always been to articulate nascent, even inchoate, public attitudes, it comes as no surprise that we had already been down this track long before. And Edmund Cooper had been there twice.
The first time out was Five To Twelve, a title that explicitly refers to the ratio of men to women in the new society of the future, but also hints at ominous nuclear-clock overtones. The growth of the birth control pill has created a world where women are no longer bound by procreation and have thereby succeeded in taking over the world, becoming ‘both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense, impregnable’. The arrival of longevity treatments seems to ensure that this state of affairs will survive indefinitely.
The story concerns a lone rebel of a man, Dion Quern, who writes poetry, and looks with disdain on how things have turned out. His half-baked rebellion against the social norm is almost Orwellian, and like all Orwell’s heroes, you know that he’s doomed to failure and capitulation. I should stress that the comparison is not lightly made – like all sentient beings, I rate the work of George Orwell very highly and it’s intended as a high compliment to mention this book in such a context. It may not quite have the depth of characterization that Orwell brought to his studies of misfits, but it compensates by having a sense of humour, and a lightness of touch. Here, for example, is his account of the exploitation of science by industry as the Pill takes root:
Marvellous in its brevity and its cynicism. And the ending to the novel is genuinely moving.
Who Needs Men? is a lesser, but still enjoyable piece. When men almost destroyed the world with the ultimate war, it became time for the women to take over. By the time we join them, there are only a few thousand men left in Britain, living wild in the Scottish Highlands, desperately trying to fight back with crossbows against the laser-gun-wielding warrior women who are trying to complete their extermination. Meanwhile a much reduced population, now entirely female, has rebuilt England in their own image. Which means there are some nice little gags, particularly Nelson’s Column having been renamed Germaine’s Needle. And means that there’s a fair number of lesbian orgies going on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer to the question of the title is: Women. Because don’t go getting the idea that this is a serious exploration of gender roles or a considered speculation on the future evolution of society. It’s not. It’s an exploitation novel spinning off from the social disruption caused by the arrival of feminism in the early-Seventies. And it’s all the better for it. This is a variation on a doomed love story (in which Romeo and Juliet are separated by gender rather than family), and it’s a fine piece of work: entirely readable and really quite fun, despite the wistful longing of the story-line.
What’s common to both books is a fear that everything is going wrong. Women want men to be men, men want to be men, but the aspirations of both are being increasingly frustrated. They may seem, in my portrayal, like special pleading, or a ‘Canute-like gesture against the advancing tide of women’ (Five To Twelve p.27), but they’re genuinely good novels, not merely as reflexions on their time.
Walter Harris, The Mistress of Downing Street