Saturday, 31 March 2018


The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Channelling Doris Lessing, Ursula Le Guin and J.G. Ballard, Lidia Yuknavitch brings us The Book Of Joan, a startling portrayal of humanity devolved and earth decimated by warfare, lack of resources and an elite class who live on CIEL - a sub-orbital craft constructed from abandoned space stations. Here we meet Christine, living, if you can call it that, under the control of dictator Jean de Men. Christine is a narrator who scribes stories by burning them into flesh, her own and others'. The story she burns into her own is the Book of Joan, telling of Joan, the warrior who led the battle against Jean de Men and died heroically at the stake. On CIEL and on earth (where small clans of humans exist) there is an obsession with the body and the flesh. On CIEL they graft flesh and parade themselves ritualistically; on earth, they hark back to ritual stories of times before the geo-catastrophe.
Joan is a martyr, a warrior girl who at sixteen leads an army against the mighty forces of General Jean de Men. Joan at ten enters the forest, a wild ancient forest in France, and has an encounter with nature that changes her, giving her powers one with the natural environment and against the destructive impulses of humanity. A blue light glows from within her from her temple and she quickly becomes a symbol of resistance and rebellion. Her constant dream is of a planet on fire, of humans warring with each other until they are dehumanised, and the choice she makes at sixteen is devastating. Is she a martyr or has she martyred her people? Captured by the ruling powers and tied to the stake to be burnt alive, she is given iconic status and becomes the story by which rebels defy the elite, ritualised within this new world order.  Humanity is dying out - physical changes include the loss of hair, skin pigmentation and genitalia. On CIEL the physical appearance of the inhabitants is startling - they are porcelain white, smooth-skinned - hairless - decorated by obscene skin grafts and some by words burnt into their flesh - a ritual that keeps stories alive through pain and precision.
The geo-catastrophe on earth has left those that remain with few resources and a mistrust of their fellows. Most live in isolated clans underground, and as we see this world only through the eyes of Joan and her mate, Leone, we know only as much as they do - the odd person they meet or any who seek them out, and vague rumours of others. The world in 2049 is a blend of medieval practices and technology. CIEL draws what little resources are left from the earth through networks of tendril-like connections and has technology on its craft to stop it falling into the sun. At the heart of this novel is a fierce battle of morals. Jean de Men wants to draw Joan into his lair, into his reproduction laboratory, to harvest her for his own repopulation programme. He is mad and powerful. Christine, the narrator, driven by the desire to topple the overlord Jean de Men and by her obsession with Joan, wishes to raise Joan from myth through the power of words and thus create a rebellion on CIEL.
Lidia Yuknavitch's The Book of Joan includes themes of reproduction, competition for resources and power, gender ambiguity and sexual obsession. These are common across several feminist fictions: Alderman’sThe Power, Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and the revived The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Added to the dynamic plot is an intellectual layer - philosophical discussions about matter and the intertwining of history; the three main characters are drawn from French medieval personalities; warrior Jeanne d'Arc, early feminist authorChristine de Pizan and her nemesis, romantic poet and scholar Jean de Meun - and you have a compelling, strange and powerful book.

No comments:

Post a Comment