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Friday, May 13, 2022

Anna by Sammy H.K. Smith (Reviewed by Daniel P. Haeusser)


Official Author Twitter
OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Sammy H.K Smith lives and works in Oxfordshire, UK as a police detective. When not working, she spends time with her children, husband and pets, renovates her house, and inadvertently kills plants. A keen writer and lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, she’s often found balancing a book, a laptop, a child, and a cat whilst watching Netflix.
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURBS: A chilling feminist novel set in a near-future dystopia, Anna explores the conflicts between selfhood and expectations, safety and control, and the sacrifices we make for the sake of protection.
Beaten. Branded. Defiant.
Anna is a possession. She is owned by the man named Will, shielded from the world of struggles and possessions by his care. He loves her, protects her, and then breaks her. Anna is obedient, dutiful, and compliant. Anna does not know her place in the world.
When she falls pregnant, Anna leaves her name behind, and finds the strength to run. But the past - and Will - catch up with her in an idyllic town with a dark secret, and this time, it’s not just Anna who is at risk.
FORMAT/INFO: Anna is 300 pages long, divided over thirty-one chapters within three parts. Narration is in first person via the titular character Anna/Kate.

25th May 2021 marked the hardcover publication of Anna. Audio and eBook versions are also available. Anna is published by Solaris (Rebellion Press) and distributed through various imprints.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Most of civilization has collapsed in an apocalyptic catastrophe. Families are fragmented, friends and loved ones have been lost. Small, isolated communities try and rebuild something. But, most-where it is everyone for themselves, a lawless dystopia where gangs and sociopaths thrive, and the physically strongest can exert their will on others.
The novel opens with a woman, our first-person narrator, getting captured and branded by a man who calls himself Will, a man who names his newly claimed property Anna. In Will’s mind, he has done her a favor, offering her protection from other – likely worse – predators who stalk the landscape. All he asks in return is loyalty and appreciation. Maybe gradually a little love. After all, he’s just a nice guy trying to help her out.
We the readers witness Anna’s early hopes of freedom dashed, and she quickly realizes the kernels of truth behind Will’s claims. For there are some really nasty threats out there, and other men who treat their women far, far worse. So, should she not be grateful? Each moment to herself, she tries to remind herself of the identity that she has lost, and that even if worse exists, this still is not right. She is not Anna.
Eventually, Anna does take advantage of a situation to find escape, and reaches a small village that accepts her with open arms and not too many questions regarding her past. She discovers that she is pregnant with Will’s child, and is eager to get past the trauma of her captivity and start a new life with another name, Kate, and a child of her own.
However, any hopes of escaping her past vanish when Anna/Kate learns that Will has arrived in town, introducing himself as Kate’s partner Peter. And so, as she looks on in stunned horror, her former abuser suavely inserts himself into her life, making fast friends with the people she has worked so hard to develop a new relationship with. Afraid of speaking up, afraid of trying to run again, she must find how to survive again in proximity to this reminder of trauma and violence, of her loss of selfhood, until she can find a way to gain the upper hand and turn her predator into prey.
The novel divides nicely between three sections, one with Anna/Kate in captivity held by Will, one with Kate establishing life in the village, and one where Peter inserts himself into Kate’s life. Each has its own tone, but each are filled with terrific pacing and fascinating perspectives into the mind of Anna/Kate. The violence and brutality of the novel can make for difficult reading, but it is worth it for those who can handle that. Though clearly in the science fiction genre, the focus of the novel is not on details of the apocalyptic event that brought humanity to its present state. This allows the focus to remain on Anna/Kate, and on the real themes of the novel, which are larger than its plot.
Identity, or selfhood, are among key themes to the novel, with protagonist and antagonist essentially being people who hide themselves, down to their real names. In addition to Will/Peter, the antagonist also goes by the name Daniel. Who he is, what was his story, remains as enigmatic as Anna’s full past. In the absence of civilization, left on their own amid dystopia, their individual identity is all they have left unto themselves, to not share. And even that shred, the man tries to steal from the woman, to control her, to exert power. That control is framed in a story of protection, care, of love. But in reality, it is a bastardization of those things, their antithesis.
Anna is a strongly feminist novel, but not in a direction that affirms, or shows vast successes of women, or an inversion of classical stereotypes for sex/gender. It is feminist in that it puts the reader into the perspective of a woman through its first-person narration. An abused woman at that. It is an apocalypse not just in the genre or popular sense, but in the literal sense. A revelation. An unveiling. A bit of what it must be like to a mind or soul who is being controlled without regard of their independent personhood, manipulated as an object.
As a male reader, I read Anna with horror and disgust at what happens to this character, this woman. And yet, it also made me think about things metaphorically. Though I have never done anything remotely like Will/Peter literally does to Anna/Kate, have I treated women in my mind or through action in ways that are at their heart based on the same assumptions, or lies that one tells oneself in justification? What is also dreadful, but vital, to consider, is that while I may not literally do things like the men in this novel, there are certainly men out there who do, even now, even today.
Many might say that they don’t need to read about this type of situation to appreciate it. But even so, I think that I ‘appreciated’ it prior to reading Anna. While reading the novel, I also felt a bit of it, and really thought about it, far deeper than I would by simply watching the news, or watching (or reading) more sanitized, less brutal representations in fiction. That is the feminist gut punch of Anna.
CONCLUSION: Anna is a tautly written dystopian thriller immerses readers in a brutal world of struggling for survival and personhood. It is not inspirational. It is a horrifying and brutal first-person account of traumatic abuse and finding a possibility of some freedom or power despite it. Readers who are prepared for that, and who are able transcend the savagery along with Anna/Kate, will feel its feminist representational core. It may not be a pleasant experience, but it is certainly an important one, artfully composed to place the reader in the abused protagonist’s mind, to align with her spirit.


Anonymous said...

Great review and so insightful!


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