In her debut novel, XX, Angela Chadwick imagines a world in which it is scientifically possible for women to reproduce without men. But rather than taking place in some faraway fictional land, the novel is set in a not-too-distant future Britain, where the enemy of progress is not technology run amok, but the hateful agendas of devious politicians and poisonous tabloids.
The story is told from the perspective of Jules, a pragmatist and journalist. Jules’ journey into motherhood with her partner Rosie is sensationalised and distorted by right-wing publications, and election candidate Richard Prior, when it is revealed that they are part of a ground-breaking clinical trial testing ovum-to-ovum technology.
As Chadwick tackles the ‘what ifs’ of such complex and controversial subject matter, it is no wonder that the novel and its characters are constantly engaged in fierce debate. And it is in Chadwick’s shrewdly-chosen narrator that we find some much-needed balance in this polarised society.
Jules is both an admirer of Rosie’s optimism, and understandably concerned about the potential for devastation that lies in the “experiment”. She struggles to discern whether she is “missing some primal instinct, some ingredient of real womanhood,” or whether she is simply experiencing the same natural doubts and anxieties of all parents-to-be. And perhaps most importantly, in depicting the life turned upside-down of the journalist who becomes the headline, Chadwick allows Jules to be both a part and critic of the media vultures preying on her family.
There is no sugar-coating with Chadwick’s straightforward prose style. XX is unapologetic in its portrayal of online trolls, bigoted pressure groups like the Alliance for Natural Reproduction, and overambitious reporters who willingly mislead public opinion by pandering to the fear-mongering of Prior.
We need not look very far to figure out where the book takes its inspiration for the ludicrous accusations of Nazi-like “social engineering”, and claims of “political correctness gone too far”, that threaten to wreck the trial. All it takes is a glance at the front page of today’s newspapers, a few minutes of television, or a quick scroll on Twitter, for us to see that this toxicity exists all around us.
Despite the significance of the novel’s powerful exploration of “fake-news” culture, Chadwick always keeps the lives and relationships of XX‘s wonderfully flawed characters centre stage. And these tumultuous relationships are where I eventually found clarity and hope amidst the chaos.
Even at home and within the trial’s group of prospective mothers, Jules and Rosie’s pregnancy initially faces opposition. From saboteurs and unsupportive friends, to Jules’ clueless father and Rosie’s secretly traditional mother, I was worried that these women would never find a sense of community or belonging.
But the novel is beautifully paced, and in no rush to provide a simple happy ending. Instead, XX takes its time to gradually educate its characters, just as it does its readers, about how “endlessly adaptable and inventive love can be.”