Talulah is internationally renowned as an actress having taken part in blockbuster films like Pride & Prejudice (2005) and St Trinian’s (2007, 2009), and TV series such as Pistol, currently showing on the Disney platform. However, Talulah’s talent goes well beyond the realm of filming sets. She is a critically acclaimed author whose first book, Acts of Love (2016), with its intelligent approach to “idyllic love”, thrilled readers worldwide by challenging and questioning established views on love and relationships. Her second book, The Quickening, is equally bold. Set in a not-too-distant future, we find a society completely ruled by women, organised in a way that one can’t help but think of the darkest times of the former Soviet Union… just scarier.
After millennia of being subjugated by men, women have risen to absolute power, led by Dana Mayer, who had been planning a new world since her student years at Oxford. In Dana’s world, men are totally emasculated, children are raised away from their parents… and freedoms are severely limited. On the other side, we find Arthur Alden, who has been in love with Dana since he met her at Oxford in 2015, but who hates the world she has created.
The Quickening is a riveting tale of an utterly scary society led solely by women. Think the former Soviet Union… a hundred times worse.
The story develops as an exploration of gender, politics and society, with a subtle humour running underneath, which reveals Talulah’s intelligence and fine analytical skills. As she told me when I interviewed her for the front cover of our spring issue 2022 , “I think asking questions is more important than getting answers.” The Quickening does exactly that, it asks questions about gender equality, fear, misuse of power, even idolatry.
Speaking to Talulah about the main characters in the world of The Quickening, she says of Dana, “She is supposed to be as deadly a despot as ever existed; ruthless and ideologically-driven.” On the other hand, Arthur serves as the voice of the oppressed. “I wanted there to be recognisable moments from Art’s experience that could parallel life now – for example, when he panics because he can hear a woman’s high heeled shoes behind him and wonders why she would be following him so closely if she was harmless. Fear is something that is discussed a lot in our world: of men walking too closely behind women and not understanding that is something that can inspire fear.”
It is evident that is a society dominated by angst. The third main voice in the book is that of Victoria, a singer-songwriter turned pop-star by a powerful and callous producer who keeps her for years in an abusive relationship until Dana “rescues” her and makes her the culture poster idol of her new world. “Victoria allows us to see someone that has been intimately involved in creating the regime,” explains Talulah, “but regrets her involvement and doesn’t know how to escape. She is as much a prisoner as Art. I also wanted her to articulate horrific memories of the time-before, i.e., our world.”
Talulah Riley touches critical topics like relationships, gender equality and society order in such an intelligent and thought-provoking way that I can’t wait to read her third book.
– Julia Pasarón
Each chapter starts with a quote from the “holy book” of this society, called The Quickening. Talulah uses these quotes to bring attention to how society has mistreated women throughout history and the absurdity of it all. I can’t help but sharing with you a couple of them:
“Men, who cannot birth the species, compensate by propagating ideas.” (page 68).
“Historically, fashion has been used as a weapon against women, whether by constricting our movements and personal freedoms with corsets, high heels etc., or by pitting us as sexually competitive objects.” (page 126).
I find Talulah’s incisive comments original and thought-provoking. As a storyteller, she is agile and engaging, there is no artifice in her narrative or over-styling, she lets her writing do the talking. I believe this is a book that everybody should read, especially anyone who is exploring gender roles, fear and the absurdity of social order, not just in history, but also in the society in which we live today.
The Quickening is available to buy online at the following retailers:
Words: Julia Pasarón
Talulah Riley is photographed by Leo Cackett. She wears suit and top by Pinko, shoes by Gina London and jewellery by Tiffany & Co.