Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Book of Joan

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
HarperCollins: 4/18/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062383273

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch is a highly recommended literary post-apocalyptic reimagined  Joan of Arc story.

It is 2049. The Earth is a burned-out, lifeless husk due to world wars, global geological catastrophes, and solar flares. Wealthy humans, or what they have evolved into, are living on CIEL, a suborbital complex hovering above the Earth. Human are currently all sexless, hairless, and completely white. Christine Pizan, 49, remembers life on earth before CIEL, but now she resembles the other inhabitants. The residents of CIEL are not allowed to live past age 50, to save resources. They also practice body modification and cover themselves in scars and skin grafts. Christine specializes in skin stories, an electrosurgical branding of words on skin grafts. On her body, Christine is telling the story of Joan of Dark, a child and echo-terrorist who had a mysterious power and communicated directly with the Earth. When Christine dies, Joan's story, as branded/written on her skin, will continue

Joan fought against Jean de Men for the Earth. He is a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who waged war against Joan and currently rules CIEL as a quasi-corporate police state. De Men turned Joan into a martyr, putting her execution on display - but her story is not over. Christine is planning a rebellion with others to seize control from de Men and she also learns that Joan is still alive on Earth. She is also hoping she can save her beloved friend, Trinculo.

This speculative fiction novel is told in three books, the first narrative is through Christine's point-of-view, the second is Joan's story, and the third concludes the story. The writing is incredible - literary, poetic. Yuknavitch is a wordsmith who delights in language and the passion and horror words can communicate. The Book of Joan is firmly a feminist point-of-view and confronts the questions of sexuality, love, and the fluidity of genders, along with the need to rebel against tyrannical leaders with no compassion or humanity. It begs the question: What does it mean to be human? To love?

I delighted in some of the wording Yuknavitch used in The Book of Joan.  While the poetic, literary, and lyrical wording was extraordinary, and is its own literary achievement, the actual plot needed a little bit of clarification, additional explanation, more story.  No one will question the quality of the writing; it is the context that became perplexing at times. In some ways this novel is almost too ambitious for the goals set before it. In the end I took great delight in the writing but felt dissatisfied by the actual flow of the narrative. While the characters are developed and there is change and growth, the notion of character development doesn't seem to directly apply to The Book of Joan - except for Joan.

The Book of Joan is highly recommended, but for a specific audience. If you like literary novels with a science fiction setting and take delight in words and their usage, it's  a good choice. If you like a good epic, post-apocalyptic science fiction story, you might feel let down by the lack of a fluid, well-appointed plot.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

No comments: