All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Fortress by S.A. Jones

on April 4, 2018

The Fortress 
S.A. Jones
Bonnier Publishing
2018, 276p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Jonathon Bridge’s arrival at The Fortress – a society run and populated by women – begins with a recitation of the conditions of his stay: he is forbidden to ask questions, to raise his hand in anger, and to refuse sex. 

Jonathon has offered himself as a supplicant in The Fortress after his pregnant wife Adalia discovered the ugly sexual violence pervading his top-tier firm. She has agreed to continue their fractured relationship on the condition he enter The Fortress for one year.

Jonathon is utterly unprepared for what will happen to him over the course of the year – not only to his body, but his mind and his heart.

This absorbing, confronting and moving novel asks questions about consent, power, love and fulfilment. It asks what it takes for a man to change, and whether change is possible without a radical reversal of the conditions that seem normal.

Jonathan Bridge enjoyed a top corporate job and all of the ‘perks’ that came along with it. First year interns were referred to in a denigrating way as ‘poodles’ and it was expected that they would not refuse a bit of fun be it in the office during work hours or at one of the booze laden parties celebrating successes. When Jonathan’s pregnant wife discovers what he’s been a part of, she has one thing she wants him to do in order to save their marriage – or she’s walking. He has to enter The Fortress and give himself up completely into their power, for one year. No visitation. Very little, almost no contact with the outside world. And his wife is pregnant, so Jonathan will miss the birth of his child.

Jonathan enters The Fortress and has to agree to abide by their rules. He is not allowed to ever question. He must do what he’s told, no matter what. He must never refuse sex. He has to completely submit to them in all forms and find out what it’s like to be truly powerless, his needs and wants not at all a concern. It’s the complete opposite of what Jonathan has known and experienced in his life, as a high ranking male in a powerful corporate firm.

So I had to agree to read this after I read the description. It’s dropping at such a pertinent time, with all of the public accusations levelled at men in power such as Harvey Weinstein, of gross sexual misconduct. Jonathan probably doesn’t believe he’s done anything really wrong – the poodles love the attention, they vie to be there and it’s not like he cares about them. He loves his wife but sometimes he slips up. It isn’t until his wife confronts him (in what is a truly twisted and amazing scene) that he realises just what the consequences of this behaviour could be. And so he agrees to go to The Fortress for a year in order to prove himself.

The Fortress is a completely isolated society run by women. There are men there but they are either supplicants like Jonathan or men who have been sentenced there for heinous crimes. Jonathan is assigned to a work crew and spends his days clearing a type of weed from the gardens, which is incredibly difficult to remove. The men mostly work in silence but he finds a companion of sorts in one of the other men, who is a favourite of the women and often chosen by them for sexual duties.

It takes a long time for Jonathan to adapt to the ways of The Fortress. His immediate reaction is always to ask questions on why this is done or why that isn’t done, completely ignoring the first rule of never questioning anything. He’s there aware that he will have to have sex with other women and that he cannot refuse it but the sexual encounters are not at all about Jonathan and he is utterly powerless during them and basically used. It takes Jonathan a very long time to accept his role in The Fortress and he’s frequently reprimanded for his questioning mind and reluctance to completely give himself up. There was one thing I did kind of admire Jonathan for refusing to do, despite the fact that it breaks most of the rules in The Fortress but ultimately because it makes me uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong in the ways of The Fortress. It’s something that Jonathan has to learn too, that he isn’t responsible for making these decisions, the women are. And he has to go along with them unquestioningly, do what they tell him to do, no matter how he feels about it. He’s helpless, powerless, a worker drone to do what he’s told and be at their mercy. Not unlike a poodle really.

For all his faults I believe that Jonathan does love his wife and is desperate to save his marriage. And although I think he agreed to go into The Fortress thinking it’d be easy, he stuck it out even when it wasn’t and when he faced fear, humiliation and was little more than slave labour. I like to think that he learned a lot from his time in The Fortress and that he leaves with a better respect for women and consideration for their feelings and what an imbalance of power means. But the Jonathan in The Fortress is a Jonathan with few other options. There are no corporate types, no powerful men. When he leaves he has plans not to revert to the Jonathan of the before and hopefully, they play out. I think that Jonathan’s evolution as a character was very believable – a year is a long time and it takes him a long time to adjust to the ways of life in The Fortress, to really understand the role they are playing and how things he believes are black and white, aren’t really. The Fortress itself was a really interesting place and I liked the idea of it – but for Jonathan to change he had to spend a year immersed within it. Could he have changed himself without that? I honestly don’t think so. I’m not sure Jonathan really understood the implications of some of his behaviour until he experienced the various ins and outs of being a supplicant and understood what it was like to have no power or body autonomy and be in a position of having to agree to something. It helped him understand the poodles and realise that the culture around them wasn’t ‘real’ – they were seeing them the way they wanted to, and as less than human.

This is a very inadequate review for a very interesting book. S.A. Jones has created a society that turns most western societal power structures upside down and it’s fascinating to contemplate. This is a book you could dissect for hours.


Book #50 of 2018

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