Altoids Boxes bring to mind post-apocalyptic landscapes. If there ever was a nuclear holocaust or large-scale destruction of any kind, Altoids boxes will be all that remains to remember modern society by. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a book where a character in a post-apocalyptic world has found an Altoids box and wondered about it. Apparently Altoids boxes are sturdy little things to have around and will be a conversation piece for many a future post-apocalyptian.
The girls of Nomansland by Lesley Hauge have an Altoids box and much more. They have a secret cottage full of bright red lipstick, and magazines of “men-children” and platform shoes and glittering gold bikinis. When a girl sees these things, it’s auto-gush. It’s almost inbred into the genes. At least, no one in this book smeared lipstick on their nails and nailpolish on their lips which would be a big no-no! Laing knew the value of such things the moment she saw them, and had to get the other girls, including Keller, in on it, too. Such curious folk, they were, the People from the Time Before with their pale delicate skin, fragile looking bodies, shadowed eyes. Did they ever have to train in the Barracks, or work on the farm until their nails broke? And why do they seem to mingle freely with The Enemy – the humpless, perfectly formed men-children? What kind of world was the Time Before?
Though Keller is training to be a tracker, she hardly gets a chance to actually do any tracking. In fact, she’s quite a book worm, and because of that, keeps reading things she’s not supposed to read, like about Pandora’s box and serpents in a garden – all the stuff that’s banned reading in the Future. And she starts to see and hear things that she doesn’t quite believe is happening on this island where rules must be obeyed to the tee or else Silent Humiliation and much worse will be doled out. The rules make up all that she understands to be true – what happens when they are broken by her superiors?
There is also a very scary lady who commands the island women community. Her hair is pulled back into a tight bun, and sometimes she wears red skirts and tall veiled hats, and rides sidesaddle for the heck of it. She has a peculiar intense curiosity and hatred of woman’s stuff from the past but she indulges in them freely, despite the rules. And there are so many rules. All the Pitfalls that must be avoided to root out weakness in the girls: Reflection, Decoration, Coquetry, Triviality, Vivacity, Compliance, and Sensuality. Scary commander lady, Ms Windsor, reinterprets what I think is the Bible, into a story of lust and repression and idiotic women throwing themselves at the feet of shameful men. She goes stark-raving mad around this particular point. Noone’s allowed to make friends here, everyone must operate as a unit. But, the more rules there are, the more rules that must be broken. And who’s first to do it? Laing of course! And who’s last to do it? Keller, maybe. Someone must be punished in the process, and perhaps another, promoted for being a good obedient citizen…
This book is all about girl drama. Even though friendship is prohibited, girls will be girly girls, apparently. There will be jealousies (who gets in on the secret first?) and probably backstabbing (she’s not prettier than me!), and yes, some girls will feel the urge to strip down naked in the sun, even in chilly post-apocalytic sun. Men are considered dangerous, lustful, enemies. Impregnation is a grim necessary thing, an incapacitation, that is all. But despite this, love still happens, and mothers still nurture but all in secret, to preserve the outward order because girls gone wild on this island would probably be a scary thing.
Keller is our main character. I felt slightly neutral towards her, perhaps it was the writing style of the story. She’s fairly cautious and judgmental but she’s also a bubble of rebelliousness just waiting for the right moment to be popped! Laing took the story, for me. She’s the ringleader of the group – the alpha female – beautiful, confident and dangerously unafraid. She’s that girl that tells you secrets to make you feel special. But, she’s also that girl who gives you the cold shoulder when it suits her and makes you cry and run away. Typical girly girl antics. She’s too much energy too soon, whereas Keller’s a slow burner which make them good foils for one another.
Most of the book is about the girls trying to figure out what sort of silly strange things People of the Time Before did with all their weird junk and contraptions and nonsense stories and how they came to make such smooth surfaces and hard materials. If only Dove and Sunlight bottles hold what they sound like they hold. But they have to play around with these things in secret, because severely BAD consequences could happen if they are found out. So there is an element of tension. There are creepy men mutants but they live far away from the island where they can’t spread their creepy deformities to the perfect women. There is also a lot of tension surrounding the purpose of the rules and what is actually natural and practical and harmless. So, I guess, according to the crazy commander lady, if women ruled the world, the outcome would basically be like if men ruled the world, except the women would be the ones having to do all the self-repression of fun things. Also, woman mind games are much worst than men’s, I believe.
Anyway, lots of STUFF happens, even if the story begins a little slowly. The ending however, it a definitely cliff-hanger, but I don’t know of any upcoming book…
Rating: 3.5 two-wheeled contraptions held together by metal with an odd-shaped leather saddle perched atop it.
All I have are such tiny fragments with which to piece together the world around me and to try to solve the puzzle that in some way tempts us all: the riddle of the Time Before, and perhaps the riddle of the time to come, if there is a time to come. The Old People must have thought they had a limitless future; I think that is just the way of our minds. But the Old People are gone now. The pieces of their lives are lost and scattered in the toxic rods of fire that fell on the earth.
After the hellfire died away, there must have been a vast silence, a kind of long, strange peace. Did the towers of smoke sink back to the earth? Leaving what? A huge quiet sky of purple and gold? An enormous empty beginning? Did the scabbed birds that survived cry out, and then rise upon new and unfamiliar plummage into these noiseless skies? Did the disfigured and warped animals that lived roam free, released unto themselves and their new, terrible ways? Did the lush, deviant leaves unfurl, green and poisoned, into whatever warmth there may have been?
What can I know? What was left? Perhaps an unseen pulsating world left to its own devices, untouched by our hand. We Foundlanders scrape away at the soil we have left but I think we barely manage. Perhaps we are not as successful as we tell ourselves. I know this is blasphemy but deep in my heart, I have started to see, or at least sense, that things are not as all the authorities will have us believe. Is this why we are so frightened? What lies behind all the rules that govern us? I obey them, and yet these days they chafe me so.
So, thank you Lovkyne for the very enjoyable read! I especially agree with you when you said that you found “familiar comfort in post-apocalyptic landscapes”. Why is that? Anyway, most of the books I’ve been reading or will be reading are post-apocalyptic in some way.
Since Lovkyne sent me this book to read, I offer it up to one of you, who are interested in reading it. Just shoot me an e-mail by the end of this week (this_is_shar[at]live[dot]com) with your name and address and I will pass it on, don’t matter how far! If more than one person wants it I’ll probably just do that randomizer numbers thingy.