Female repression in bleak island sect heats up, boils over

Jennie Melamed's first novel, Gather The Daughters, evokes an isolated pseudo-religious sect. 

Jennie Melamed
Tinder Press

Jennie Melamed’s first novel tells the story of an isolated pseudo-religious sect through four extreme seasons.

On an island far far away - or far enough away to pretend civilisation has burned to the ground - a righteous new community has formed.

The hierarchical society is heavily skewed towards the men; women are relegated to baby-making and home-making; and order and obeyance are enforced through "the shalt nots", a series of rules supposedly handed down by the forebears of the cult.

Essentially, they allow fathers to rape their daughters and prevent the girls from doing anything about it; until they come of age, are married off and the cycle restarts with their own children.

Think The Handmaid’s Tale with a bit of Lord of Flies anarchy thrown in further down the track.

Despite the bleak subject matter, Melamed shows how, through children’s eyes, things are not so black and white.

Their normality has been conditioned by their surroundings, shrouded from the real world over the water which they know only as "the wastelands".

The kids especially look forward to summer, when, for three months, they run wild on the beach covered in mud to deter the mosquitoes.

Several girls, at various stages of maturity, narrate the story and the warped nature of the community’s agenda is gradually revealed to the reader.

Some characters shine brightly and give the plot zest, others make up the numbers.There are fleeting snapshots of adult life and the power struggles that permeate the sect’s structure but, sadly, most are undeveloped.

It is only an unexpected death that sees the fabric of the civilisation come under threat. And it is the children who rebel against their parents and religious overlords as they start to see through the sham and the inevitability of the life awaiting them.

Melamed builds suspense as tensions on the island reach boiling point, but the flashpoints that eventuate are never quite worthy of the development that preceded them.

- Rob Kidd is an Otago Daily Times reporter.

Add a Comment