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BSFA Review: Cwen by Alice Albinia

12/06/2022 08:51 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Cwen cover

Cwen by Alice Albinia

(Serpent’s Tail, 2021)

Reviewed by Nick Hubble

‘Why is “gynotopia” not listed as a word in either the OED or Merriam-Webster? Answer: Because men have erased such places from our memories.’ This putative pub quiz question, found on the back of a grocery bill along with a list of ideas such as giving every girl five acres at birth and a process of mandatory re-education for men aged seven to seventy-seven, is read out in court as part of the ‘Inquiry into Unfair Female Advantage in the Islands’ which is narrated in Cwen. The ‘Islands’ are an unnamed archipelago off the east coast of Scotland, whose culture has been transformed by a subtle programme of intervention in support of women led by former cabinet minister’s wife, Eva Harcourt-Vane. Her recent disappearance at sea during a storm has brought her social experiment to the attention of the UK media, leading to a frenzy of predictably sensationalist headlines, such as ‘FEMALE TAKEOVER OF ISLAND’S LEADERSHIP’ and ‘FEMALE EDUCATORS CAVORT TOGETHER NAKED’. The loose inquest format of the novel, in which the women Eva has worked with testify as to their collective motivations and achievements, invites readers to ponder whether it is indeed time both for a thoroughgoing overhaul of the patriarchy and to put gynotopia in the dictionary or, indeed, on the map.

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Review from BSFA Review 16 - Download your copy here.

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