Red Clocks is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. With the verve of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and the prescient brilliance of The Handmaid’s Tale, Leni Zumas’ incredible new novel is fierce, fearless and frighteningly plausible. Here, she introduces the story.

Leni Zumas, photo copyright Sophia Shalmiyev
Leni Zumas, photo copyright Sophia Shalmiyev
In the United States, where I live, the Trump government wants to make abortion illegal again. Many conservative politicians support a so-called Personhood Amendment, which would bestow a fertilized egg at the moment of conception with all the rights of an American citizen. My novel Red Clocks imagines what would happen if such a law were to pass: abortion seekers and providers are charged with murder, advanced fertility treatments are banned, and only married persons can adopt children. The story follows several women whose lives are changed by these new restrictions.

I didn’t set out to write a book about our current political moment. I started Red Clocks in 2010, at a time when I was struggling with infertility. I had lots of notes about terrible visits to the doctor, my rage at a friend’s joyful pregnancy news, my sadness after yet another negative pee-stick test; and I thought these scraps would become an essay. Instead they turned into a novel about the Biographer, the Wife, the Daughter, the Mender, and the Polar Explorer.

My longing to have a child—and my fear that I wouldn’t—went into writing the Biographer. My ambivalence about the mother role went into writing the Wife. My personal obsession with Arctic expeditions and maritime disaster gave rise to the Polar Explorer; and I reached back into my high school memories to create the Daughter, a pregnant 15-year-old who doesn’t want to stay pregnant. From my enduring interest in witches arose The Mender, a reclusive herbalist who secretly provides healthcare to those in need.

These characters make a range of different choices about marriage, sex, motherhood, friendship, and career ambition. Red Clocks doesn’t celebrate any one choice above the rest. On the contrary: I wanted to illustrate a handful of the many, many, many ways that people can live, and to explore what happens when one of the most profound choices of all—whether to become a mother, and when—gets taken away.

FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.
Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

Red Clocks is published on 8th March 2018.