MADI SCOTT | REPEAT OFFENDERS
“In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.”
Outlawed, the latest novel from Anna North, is definitely one to add to your to-be-read list. Set in late 19th century America, this old western setting is not quite consistent with historical fact. Instead, the book explores an alternate past where patriarchal Christian societies have emerged following the Great Flu of the 1830s, a flu that killed 90 per cent of the US population.
Set 60 years after this plague, when society has become centred around the idea of fertility, Outlawed follows the journey of Ada, an outcast on the run who is forced to leave her husband and job as a midwife once it is evident that she is unable to have children. Joining up with the ‘Hole in the Wall Gang,’ headed by the charismatic leader known as ‘The Kid,’ Ada quickly finds herself in the middle of an audacious plan to create a safe haven for outcast women.
Whilst one can definitely draw similarities between the fertility focused society with Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel, The Handmaids Tale, Outlawed presents a feminine outlook at frontier lands in a genre subverting, feminist western tale.
Outlawed challenges the traditional heteronormative tropes of the wild west whilst exploring sexual politics, gender roles, and sexuality. The novel is an easy, quick-paced read in which North has been able to create an emotional attachment between the readers and all the female and non-binary members of the Hole in the Wall Gang.
This novel is the perfect book if you find yourself in a reading slump. I initially picked it up thanks to its striking cover and whilst it was definitely outside of my usual go-to picks (think rom-coms or thrillers), it has definitely opened my eyes to reading outside of my usual genre.
This book has a little bit of everything you need in a good read, it has witchcraft, bank robberies, nuns, outlaw gangs, cowboys, and even a few juicy relationships. The characters are memorable, and the quick pace is enticing. North’s attempt to subvert the traditional western genre has resulted in an interesting novel that touches on sexual politics, racism, and female identities within a patriarchal world.
Whilst I think this book is up there as one of my favourite reads of the year so far, it doesn’t come without its faults. I found the ending lacklustre and rushed. Maybe that was inevitable when most of the book leads up to one big finale, but I couldn’t help but feel like I needed more at the end. Questions were left unanswered; problems were resolved instantly, and I was left longing for more.
I won’t lie, it’s a bit of a bizarre story and I definitely wouldn’t think I would ever enjoy an old wild west type of setting, but the book just works. I think this also comes down to how strangely relatable Outlawed is from our current life. Not only does reading about a society post-pandemic hit close to home, but North explores the power of misinformation and religious dictation in a way that makes you ponder.
“Knowledge can be very valuable... but only if people want it. If they don't, it can be worse than useless.”
Whilst it’s not a perfect book (is there ever?), I would definitely recommend Outlawed. It’s a refreshing yet emotionally turbulent read that is exciting and thought-provoking. This book has not only made me anticipate North’s future works, but also challenged my usual reading tendencies, which is probably a good thing when I read more than the appropriate amount of cringy rom-coms.