Book Review: The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings
Updated: Oct 26
Who should read it: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crucible.
Why you should read it: This is a novel that cleverly blends fantastical elements with social commentary on wide-reaching themes including gender and racial discrimination, female bodily autonomy and queer phobia.
The Women Could Fly is set in a dystopian world where witches are real. In this authoritarian and highly patriarchal society, women (and especially non-white women) are routinely treated with suspicion. Witches are seen to be powerful and evil and women must be controlled by men to prevent them from causing harm. Any signs of peculiar behaviour by women are closely investigated by The State for evidence of witchcraft, with punishment ranging from fines and imprisonment right up to being burnt at the stake depending on the severity of the offence.
The State has mandated women must marry before they turn 30 in order to live their lives under the careful watch of a man and protect them against following the path towards evil. Alternatively, they must forfeit all autonomy, including giving up their jobs, bank accounts and property and live under the constant surveillance of The State with minimal privacy. Spying on women for signs of witchcraft is actively encouraged and suspicion within families and communities is commonplace.
We’re introduced to the protagonist Jo, a bi-racial, bi-sexual woman who’s rapidly approaching her 30th birthday. She’s just registered with The State for mandatory check-ins whilst she weighs up her options for the future, and is grappling with the idea of marrying a man she doesn’t love to retain some degree of freedom in the rest of her life.
We also discover that Jo’s outspoken mother mysteriously disappeared fourteen years prior under a cloud of suspicion that culminated in Jo being interrogated as a child and encouraged to denounce her mother as a witch. Jo has been under scrutiny ever since the disappearance which has also placed a strain on her relationship with her father. The story follows what happens in the aftermath of Jo finally deciding to have her mother declared legally dead so she can move forward with her life.
We follow Jo on a journey to discover what happened to her mother, connecting her past with her future as she attempts to make sense of the world around her. Much of the book is dedicated to exploring the mother/daughter relationship, exploring the themes of love, guilt and forgiveness, against a backdrop that mirrors various current societal injustices.
This book is enjoyable read. It struck the right balance between being an entertaining piece of fiction whilst having something important to say about society. The parallels to situations we can recognise from our own world are cleverly done in such a way that it’s very relatable despite the fantastical elements.
Giddings, M. (2022) The women could fly. London: Macmillan.