The Book of Joan

book of joan coverIt’s the year 2049, and ecological disaster has rendered Earth inhospitable to human life. The wealthy life on something called, CIEL, a life raft in space cobbled together from pieces of space junk that is tethered to the Earth with invisible umbilical cords that drain what resources are left from the planet below.

Humanity itself has also changed in this novel by Lidia Yuknavitch. The combination of geocatastrophe and radiation has caused people to shed all their hair and absorb their own genitalia. The human body has become a place not of reproduction but of storytelling. The people of CIEL burn narratives into their bodies. Christine Pizan intends to graft onto her skin the story of Joan, a warrior who had a special connection to the Earth and seemed like she could save them all, until she was caught and burned alive.

This futuristic Joan of Arc story is full of ideas about life, the environment, the human body, and the power of story. It also sometimes feels shatteringly relevant, as in this early passage:

We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.

Our existence makes my eyes hurt.

People are forever thinking that the unthinkable can’t happen. If it doesn’t exist in thought, then it can’t exist in life. And then, in the blink of an eye, in a moment of danger, a figure who takes power from our weak desires and failures emerges like a rib from sand. Jean de Men. Some strange combination of a military dictator and a spiritual charlatan. A war-hungry mountebank. How stupidly we believe in our petty evolutions. Yet another case of something shiny that entertained us and then devoured us. We consume and become exactly what we create.

So, yeah, there’s that.

I was pretty into the concept of this book, although I question setting it in such a near future. Maybe that’s my version of denial, but technology and human culture, never mind human physiology, seemed to have changed too much. But when I look back to what life was like 30 years ago, the technological advances seem a lot less far-fetched, and Yuknavitch has an explanation for the devolution. So that’s settled.

The story, though, I never could quite get into. I liked the idea of it, but I ended up bewildered by the shifts from CIEL to Earth, into the past and back to the present. There were some abrupt point of view shifts that I missed altogether. (I was reading an e-galley, so it’s possible that the final print book will at least have some spacing to provide visual cues.) I think I ended up able to put together all the many threads of the plot into something that sort of makes sense, but I never could wrap my mind around the skin graft storytelling.

I suspect a lot of people will love this book, because of passages like the one quoted above and how it draws on our current anxieties about the state of the planet. I’ll be interested to see what others think!

I received an egalley for review consideration via Edelweiss.

This entry was posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Book of Joan

  1. Jeanne says:

    Yikes! But this sounds fascinating!

  2. Michelle says:

    I just finished this one and feel the same way. There was something about the switching back and forth and even the voices of Joan and Christine that kept me at a distance and confused me to know end. I dislike when books make me feel stupid, and I felt like I was missing the point almost the entire time. I will be curious to see what others think of this one.

    • Teresa says:

      I couldn’t decide if the plot was confusing or I just was too easily distracted, so I’m glad to hear I wasn’t alone in finding it unnecessarily muddy.

      • Michelle says:

        You are definitely not alone. The more I try to dissect it, the more confused I get too. I am also recognizing some of the stranger aspects of the plot. So far, my lasting impression is not a favorable one. I will be curious what others think of it.

  3. roberteggleton says:

    I like the switching POV and may decide to read this one despite the passage included in the review that I consider mediocre writing at best. I like the premise even if the author is not skilled in presentation.

    • Teresa says:

      The premise is amazing, and I thought the writing was sometimes quite good (although I selected this passage mostly for its relevance). But I didn’t think the two voices were distinct from each other at all, which added to my confusion.

      In contrast, I’m reading Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy right now, and I can always tell who the POV character is.

  4. Stefanie says:

    My library has this on order and I am waiting patiently for it. In spite of the issues you mention having with it, I think it still sounds really interesting.

Leave your comment here, and feel free to respond to others' comments. We enjoy a lively conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s