GSWS Feminist Book Club - May 2024

May 31, 2024

I Who Have Never Known Men

Jacqueline Harpman; French to English translation by Ros Schwartz

Transit Books (2022)

This story sits outside of genre, outside of time, outside of the reality we know, introducing the reader to a world unfamiliar to both them and the unnamed protagonist. It begins in an underground bunker where thirty-nine women and one young girl - the narrator - are imprisoned in a cage. They don't remember how they got there or why. Though the women remember life before the cage with families, friends, and jobs, the child knows only of their current existence. They are watched over and fed by male guards who do not speak to them and who will whip them should they have any physical contact with one another. It seems they are doomed to live and die in this cage until one day a combination of chance and ingenuity provides an opportunity for freedom.

This book provoked introspection and feelings of existentialism amongst readers in our group. It left us all with many unanswered questions which provided a fruitful discussion of potentialities. Some readers found the lack of answers frustrating, while others were more accepting and felt it could be an allegory for life's unknowns and humanity's need for meaning-making where there is none. We discussed ways in which 'femaleness' was somehow both central to and also incidental to this novel. We all enjoyed the book and found it entertaining despite the telling of the character's mundane lives.

Average rating: 4.4