Saturday 8 June 2019


The Book of Flora by Meg Elison   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Meg Elison’s 'The Road to Nowhere' is definitely a journey, from the brilliant The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, a deserved winner of a Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction, to the final and third in the series, The Book of Flora. The third instalment carries on from The Book of Etta, with the surviving women of Nowhere and the battle of Eistel — the defeat of The Lion — ensconced in the underground city to Ommun. Yet life here with the leader, prophet-like Alma, doesn’t suit everyone. It’s a place of rigid social structures and religious/cultural rituals that are controlled by Alma and her beliefs. While life is ‘good’ here compared to many settlements in the world above ground, and much safer than being on the road, it doesn’t accept everyone for who or what they are. Flora is one who doesn’t fit — who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere — she's always an outsider. With no role assigned to her, she takes it upon herself to travel the roads as a raider, looking for books — raiding abandoned libraries: medical and herbal books for Alice; farming manuals for the men of Ommun who, as part of the workforce, keep the wheels turning, producing food, and maintaining the mechanisms in this subterranean structure (presumably a massive and well-equipped fallout shelter from the old world) and who, more importantly, are kept for their breeding potential in this carefully curated community. Flora’s friends Eddy/Etta, Alice and Keida are here with her in this book, bringing some of the relationships and ideas from The Book of Etta into play again. Diving into this much anticipated third instalment, I would recommend going back to the second book to recap, as there is no preamble to get you up to speed again. Travelling takes Flora to Shy, an all-female (and wonderfully indulgent) city where food is plentiful and lush, life is sensuous and pleasure is embraced. Tempted as she is to stay here, the contempt the women of Shy have for the male species makes Flora uncomfortable, and her close ties with Eddy, in particular, draw her back to Ommun. But not for long. Soon enough the stifling atmosphere dominated by Alma drives Flora and her friends onwards. But to what? Where is their journey taking them and what are they searching for? In this dystopian future, now shaking itself down into a series of communities who are finding their own ways to deal with infertility, shortage of females, slave traders and the collapse of the old world, there are new structures that enable people to coexist with each other and find solace in belonging to a place. Flora, Alice and Eddy are travelling together but seeking different answers and are blindly heading back to the beginning of it all — the unnamed midwife’s territory in the old world of San Francisco — to look for these answers. As with the other two books, the issue of fertility and childbirth are at the fore, and, even more so, gender politics and ideas around identity and fluidity. This continuing journeying is grounded in books — in the books of the old world and the new, in the books of The Unnamed Midwife, of Etta and now of Flora herself (writing her story as an old woman living in a peaceful island community), and in the stories gathered and copied by scribes. My favourite image from this novel is the large gunship that has been converted into a floating library. Armed and ready to defend knowledge and the history of the human race against all who wish to obliterate these stories, the women — the Librarians — are the toughest yet! Elison leaves us with a curious evolutionary speculation at the end but gives us a gripping and wild journey on the way in 'The Road to Nowhere' trilogy. 

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