The thematic concern of novelist Fay Weldon is the “battle of the sexes,” and her novel The Cloning of Joanna May is no exception. Weldon chronicles Joanna’s story in fifty-five brief chapters recalling the marriage and divorce of Joanna and Carl May, as well as Joanna’s discovery of four clones, secretly conceived by her former husband.
The novel opens during Joanna’s sixtieth year. A chill October windstorm brings destructive force and bears supernatural power that frightens not only Joanna but also her four clones, Jane, Julie, Gina, and Alice. The thirty-year-old women seem unsettled; they wish for change but are unsure how to engineer it. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurs on the heels of the storm, and the radiation scare it brings to England serves as a backdrop for the action and tension of the plot.
In the meantime, Carl, who has never gotten over his divorce from Joanna, ends years of self-imposed celibacy to begin a relationship with twenty-four-year-old Bethany. Carl is neurotic and controlling. He has survived a ghastly childhood (his mother left him chained in a dog kennel) to become the chief executive of Britnuc, a corporate overseer of nuclear power stations. During a televised news conference, after the Chernobyl scare, to reassure the public that nuclear radiation poses no threat, Carl inadvertently lets the press photograph his lover, Bethany. Joanna watches the telecast of her former husband with his...
(The entire section is 516 words.)