Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonised an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. On the island, boys grow up knowing they will one day reign, while girls know they will be married and pregnant within moments of hitting womanhood.
But before that time comes, there is an island ritual that offers the children a much-longed for and beloved reprieve. Every summer they are turfed out of their homes to roam wild; they run, fight, sleep on the beach and build camps in the trees. They are free.
It is nearing the end of one of those summers and one girl sees something she was not supposed to see. It sets in motion a chain of events that could unravel the careful constructs of the entire island as one of the girls steps up to seek the truth.
Gather The Daughters is intense, horrifying, and – eventually – hard to put down. Melamed can write, but the subject matter of this novel is hard work. Incest, rape, and a rotten world for females is at its heart. The leader of the girls, Janey Solomon, is slowly starving herself to death in order to halt the inevitable beginning of puberty.
Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children, and you can’t help but hope that nothing of this book is from her real world.
The story drags a little to start with. The constant mud, trauma, and blood slowly wears you down. It is told through the eyes of four different girls – each one fighting for their survival on the island. It is only that tiny glimmer of hope that something good has to come in the end that drives you on. Sadly though, that ending never really comes in the way you want it to.
Gather The Daughters is Melamed’s debut novel and she is a talented writer. With this book though, her stellar writing is sadly overshadowed by the depressing, dark, dystopian world she has created.