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Nomansland
Lesley Hauge
Henry Holt, 243 pages

Nomansland
Lesley Hauge
Lesley Hauge was born in England and raised in Zimbabwe. She lived in Norway for many years before moving to her current home in Brooklyn, NY. Nomansland is her first novel.

Lesley Hauge Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dan Shade

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On an island of women alone, who is the real enemy? This is the question posed on the dust jacket of the novel and it takes some time for the truth to come out. We are only left to question why men have been chosen as the enemy and attributed with horrible actions. Some of it may be true and are remembered from the days of Tribulation. After all, men have raped women throughout history. Many an Indian maid was shed of her virginity during the "winning" of the west in 1880s. Nevertheless, not all men are bad, so to blindly kill any man you see seems foolhardy.

Tribulation occurred some time ago. The bombs fell and the world burned. Out of the ashes communities arose, as is always the case in post-apocalyptic science fiction. Nothing creative here and we never know the cause of the Tribulation. But we do know that it occurred long enough ago to let a culture of women only occupy a deserted college on a lonely island off the coast of nowhere. These women are organized into hierarchy of head mistress, prefects, trackers, and workers. They labor hard for their sustenance scraping a barely adequate harvest out of the dead soil.

Among this band of women are a group of young teenage trackers. These girls have been trained to be expert equestrians and archers. They are charged with protecting the shore of the island from the enemy and have been told the enemy is man. They also hunt to bring in fresh meat to the colony because they do not raise cattle. Because game is scarce they will eat any horse that may be so unfortunate as to break his leg or be too hard to handle. Little do the trackers and other workers know that trade agreements exist with colonies on the mainland. If they thought about it they would be bound to wonder where all the older women get their tobacco since none is raised on the island.

Existence for the trackers is very boring. Card games are not allowed and board games have not survived. One does not even read of them playing anything as simple as Charades. There are no forms of entertainment other than the library. But not all the girls like to read. Fortunately, our main character Keller does and goes quite often goes to the library to check out pages. The pages come in little wire cages because the bindings have long since rotted away. Very often there are pages missing which is frustrating to Keller. But the art of binding books has been lost with so many others. So when the trackers are not tracking, they are working in the fields with the other women. Most days after dinner all they can think about are falling on their bunks to sleep. Of course, no one even remembers a TV.

One night one of the other trackers, Laing, announces that she has discovered a buried dwelling from before the Tribulation. Ordinarily this would be an extremely important find for the community as most of their comforts and conveniences such as eye glasses come from items that are "found" in this way. Yet, our young trackers keep the dwelling they have a secret. The go there to explore as many times as they can slip away unseen. They begin going more and more often and, as one step leads to another, they soon decide to have a beauty contest.

How is this possible? The dwelling is loaded with stuff but most importantly to our young trackers is the deserted bedroom of someone who must have been an adolescent as well. Her closets are full of fancy clothes and her drawers are full of makeup. On her chests and tables are stacks of teen magazines showing what were the latest fashions before the Tribulation. The girls are anxious to try out the makeup and try on the clothes. Much experimentation goes on until Laing has the idea of holding a beauty contest.

The beauty contest is both exciting and disastrous for the girls. The girls are caught and disciplined by severe beatings. Only Keller did not participate and this has even more dire consequences for her than a beating. Some hint of the found dwelling must have leaked out through the leaders as they have been visited by the equivalent of our president and his cabinet. And the president is very impressed with Keller, especially for not participating in the beauty contest. This regard has life-changing consequences for Keller that make her wish she had gotten a beating instead.

All in all the book was a bit weak in storyline but rich in character development. I came to care about Keller very quickly recognizing the many traps in her life. This compassion for Keller made it easy to overlooks the contradictions I found in the story or the lack of information. For example, tribulations don't just happen. There should have been some small hint of how mankind did this to themselves. And if man is an enemy to shoot on sight, why are the older women trading with them for tobacco? And if they can trade for tobacco, why can't they get some of the other things they need like medicines?

And why beat the girls for their fashion show? Surely makeup and fashion were not the causes of the tribulation. In fact, why forbid just about anything from before the tribulation unless it is really useful like glasses or tools.

Fertility is another issue in the book that doesn't make a lot of sense. We are told that the leaders of the community keep charts on all the girls of when they have their periods. If three girls are having their period at the same time, it's considered a fertility wave but what happens to these girls is never clear. We only know for certain that some of the punished trackers will be sold to men for breeding because they are free of deformity. It appears the men from the mainland are mutated in a variety of ways.

Finally, I found myself plowing through this book. The story just doesn't flow and as mentioned above, there are too many holes in the storyline. Too many times I had to stop and review or page backwards to remind myself what was going on. I've yet to test it out on my 12-year-old daughter and get her opinion so I have no insights from the group for which the book was intended. But I have an intuition that she won't want to finish it.

Copyright © 2011 by Dan Shade

Dan Shade is a retired college professor who loves to read young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But he doesn't draw the line there. He also enjoys writing science fiction and hopes to publish someday. In the meantime, you can find him at lostbooks.org (under construction).


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