Meanwhile Britain is barricading itself away from the rest of Europe, the world is turning its back on refugees fleeing war torn countries, global warming is making its effects felt across the planet, Donald Trump is officially going to be President of the United States of America… and he’s already begun waging war on womankind.
All in all, it marks a frightening new chapter in our lives. But could we be on the cusp of a real-life dystopia?
From The Handmaid’s Tale to Never Let Me Go, we have picked out 12 of the best and must-read feminist dystopian novels – or, as we prefer to call them, ‘vital reading for our brave new world’. Hopefully these will jolt us into action and inspire us to rise up and rebel, to speak out for those most in need, and to strike a blow for victims of discrimination everywhere.
Scroll through to find out which novels you need to download to your Kindle, asap…
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s terrifying tale of a misogynistic totalitarian state captured our imaginations when it was published in 1985 – and, all these years later, it feels more worryingly relevant than ever.
Set in the not-so-distant future, it takes place in Gilead (formerly known as the United States of America); after a series of environmental disasters and plunging birth rates, the Commanders of Gilead strip away women’s rights and annex them as property of the state. They are soon forced into sexual servitude in a bid to repopulate a devastated world. Our narrator, Offred, is one such woman. Known as a ‘Handmaid’, she is given two equally bleak choices; to produce a baby for The Commander, or be sent to work – and die – in the radioactive colonies.
With a real-life Gilead unfolding in front of our eyes, now is as good a time as any to read The Handmaid’s Tale (although, fair warning, it ends on a humdinger of a cliff-hanger).
Unwind – Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman’s YA dystopia takes the battle that rages on between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice campaigners to an entirely new level, pitching them against one another in a bloody and terrifying Civil War.
However we, the readers, see none of this; instead we join them in the dizzying aftermath of their war – and learn about the dark compromise they have come to. In this bleak new world, babies are granted sanctity of life – but, if they grow up to become problem teens, their parents have the right to send them away for organ harvesting.
Beautiful, shocking, and deeply unsettling, Unwind is just the first in a powerful trilogy.
The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew
Ever wondered what would have happened if Hitler had won the war? This book, set in a contemporary Nazi-England, weaves a bleak yet utterly compelling tale about Jessika Keller, a young teenage ice skating protégé determined to do right by her father, her country, and her Führer.
Her neighbour Clementine is not so submissive. Outspoken and radical, Clem is delectably dangerous and rebellious. And the regime has noticed…
It’s not long before Jess is treading a very fine line between what she has been told is right, and what is morally right – and it soon becomes clear that she cannot keep both her perfect life and the young woman she loves so dearly. But which can she live without?
A powerful coming-of-age story, The Big Lie deftly takes on the big guns of dystopia, including sexism, feminism, sexuality, loyalty, propaganda, freedom and protest. Make sure you get a copy on your bookshelf, stat.
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The film adaptations, starring Jennifer Lawrence, made The Hunger Games a household name – and for good reason.
Collins’ story is set in an unspecified post-apocalyptic future, focusing on North America’s fictional Panem. The country, consisting of a wealthy Capitol and twelve poverty-stricken districts, is ruled by a tyrannical dictator – and, every single year, one boy and one girl from each of district are selected by lottery to battle to the death in a lavish televised event.
However President Snow and his cronies face a crisis on a national scale when 16-year-old hunter Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute; could she become the rallying symbol the people of Panem need to rise up against their rulers?
Again, this is part of a trilogy – so be sure to read all of the books to get the full and thought-provoking story.
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
We can’t give too much away about this one, as it will ruin the flow of the narrative entirely. All we can tell you, really, is that this dystopia feels quintessentially British, thanks to its English boarding school setting, and weaves a bittersweet tale of love, loss, and grief. Trust us when we say that Never Let Me Go is more than worth a read…
Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill
Only Ever Yours spins a story about the ‘eves’ of a not-so-distant future, who are made, trained to be pretty, good, and to Always be Willing.
Each will be selected to become a concubine, a companion, or for chastity – and, of course, this decision will be left entirely to the men of their society. In fact, to ensure that these girls don’t become too intelligent, they are isolated from boys from a very early age, and tutored to as to ensure that they anticipate nothing more than a life of servitude. Their goal is to reproduce – and that is all.
Told through the eyes of 16-year-old Freida, this must-read novel is very Valley of the Dolls meets The Handmaid’s Tale. And, in this new era of Trump, it feels more relevant than ever before…
The Jewel – Amy Ewing
This breath-taking YA novel follows the story of Violet Lasting, who loses her identity when she is auctioned off as a ‘surrogate’ in the Jewel of the Lone City.
Her job, the job she has been preparing for since she was 12 years old, is to carry the child of the woman who buys her. But, when that woman is revealed to be the Duchess of the Lake, Violet soon finds herself “trapped in a living death”.
When she meets another captive in the palace, Violet comes to realise exactly what’s at stake – her sanity, her freedom, and her life. Can she and Ash ever hope to be free of their engendered prisons? Or will their blossoming friendship put them in more danger, and render them even more disposable, than ever before?
We mean it when we say that The Jewel is impossible to put down – and be sure to watch out for that insane plot twist…
The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter
It’s easy to fall in hate with the male protagonist of this novel; Evelyn has no respect for women, as is clear to see when he demands a young girl perform oral sex on him in the cinema, and his short relationship with Leilah is undeniably abusive. When he gets the her pregnant, he abandons her to a voodoo abortionist – and abandons her when things go wrong.
So, when he’s ambushed and captured by a group of tribeswomen, it’s hard to muster up any sympathy for Evelyn. However, when their Mother Goddess performs a sex change operation on him against his will, the tone of the tale shifts completely…
Dark, uncomfortable, and often brutal, The Passion of New Eve will leave you feeling sick to your stomach on more than one occasion. But, if you’re brave enough to take it on, it’s well worth every single flinch of horror for those few glimmers of hope...
The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin
The Stepford Wives needs no introduction – after all, its title alone has become a phrase used in everyday conversation.
However, for those who have somehow managed to miss the book (or both of the two movie adaptations), the story follows Joanna as she moves to idyllic Stepford with her husband and children. The women of the gated American community are perfect, submissive, docile, and utterly, utterly zombie-like.
After growing more and more concerned by the mindless housewives that surround her (particularly when she learns that a number of them were once feminist activists), Joanna launches an investigation… but it’s not long before the men of Stepford grow sick of her questions.
No spoilers, but the ending will make your blood run cold. Seriously.
The Stone Gods – Jeanette Winterson
The Stone Gods isn’t so much a book, as it is the literary equivalent of being kicked in the stomach. And, annoyingly, we can’t give too much away about this post-apocalyptic love story without completely ruining it for you.
One thing we can tell you, however, is that you should go in expecting the unexpected; think self-aware characters, a plot that winds around and in on itself, and a bittersweet concoction of hopelessness and hope.
More crucially, it’s a bleak warning to modern day society as it forces us to ask ourselves: ‘why can’t we learn from our past mistakes?’
The Female Man – Joanna Russ
Ever wondered what a literal battle of the sexes would look like? Then you absolutely need to read The Female Man.
Sure, it’s a little complex in terms of the set-up; instead of one female protagonist, we follow four, each of whom is living in a different parallel world in terms of time and place. Think everything from Earth in the 1970s, right up to a futuristic utopia where men are now extinct. As such, their views on gender roles are extraordinarily, phenomenally, outstandingly different – and, when their paths cross, they’re forced to re-evaluate what it really means to be a woman.
While each offers a unique view of the world, Jael’s World – a dystopia where men and women are engaged in a deadly battle to the death – is by far the most memorable. Expect to read about women trading their children for resources, men undergoing gender reassignment surgery in a bid to fulfil their own sexual needs, and the rise of ‘pleasure robots’.
Considering scientists have already come up with the latter, and Trump’s rise to power has already sparked calls for women to be stripped of their right to vote, it may be prudent to read this one sooner rather than later…
The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
In The Year of the Flood, a plague has wiped almost all human life from the face of the Earth. Two women, however, have survived.
Ren, a young trapeze dancer, has been locked inside the “sticky zone” of a high-end sex club (which professes to have the cleanest dirty girls in town). Meanwhile Toby, a member of vegetarian-religious cult God’s Gardeners, has barricaded herself inside a luxurious spa… where, thankfully, a large number of treatments prove to be edible.
Outside, the waterless flood continues to wreak havoc on the world – and gene-spliced animals are thriving. But, as it quickly becomes apparent that Ren and Toby can’t stay where they are, readers are left wondering exactly what their next move will be. And, more importantly, whether there really is anyone else out there?
Expect plenty of flashbacks in this novel (which is, officially, a sequel to Oryx and Crake), as well as hard-hitting messages, whiplash-sharp observations, and a very Atwoodish conclusion indeed.