The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
On CIEL, Christine, a writer and rebel, spends the beginning of her final year recording a multi-sensory instruction guide to her style of grafting. Her friend, Trinculo (whom I didn’t realise is a character in The Tempest, but it fits) is something of a joker, in a place where comedy is not much in evidence. Joan of Dirt, archenemy of Jean le Men, has long been reduced to ashes, although some believe she is rebuilding an army on earth.
I don’t read much sci-fi, but I thought I’d be okay with a retelling of Joan of Arc. But, wimp that I am, I wasn’t prepared for the grisliness: as well as the two types of burning, we have a character flailed alive. I also struggled to follow the plot / internal logic, not helped by multiple flashbacks, which I usually enjoy. Nevertheless, I appreciated my introduction to Christine de Pizan, considered the first French female professional writer, whose final published book was religious meditation on Joan of Arc.
Lidia Yuknavitch’s third novel comes with glowing endorsements from broadsheets on both sides of the Atlantic; those who are less squeamish and / or have more knowledge of French medieval history might recognise those merits more. Thanks to Canongate for my review copy.
Children of the Cave by Vivre Sammalkorpi translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah
As Iax gets to know the children and their stories, he cannot deny their humanity or dismiss them as mere subjects of research. This distances him from the esteemed professor who, despairing at his failure to find a theory to explain them, becomes increasingly barbaric in his management style. Iax fears for the children’s safety, not only from Moltique who wants specimens to display in Paris but from the bunch of ruffians and criminals who comprise the expedition’s support crew.
The novel is composed in the form of Iax’s diary, with perhaps more attention paid to verisimilitude than a conventional story arc. Some entries are mere phases (although, fortunately, most are much longer) and pages are lost altogether at what might be considered tension points. For me, this had a distancing effect, and felt like an attempt to make a fairly familiar story seem original.
Vivre Sammalkorpi’s seven novel, and first to be translated into English, is about nineteenth century exploration, the loss of innocence, responses to difference and the animal that lives in us all. Thanks to Peirene Press for my review copy.
As our bodies impact upon our identities, you’ll find several approaches to the theme in my short story collection, Becoming Someone. You can hear me read the opening of one them, “Tobacco and Testosterone”, here: