Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

I was troubled by this book, a story set in the near future where a Joan of Arc-like figure has been martyred and an older woman has decided to die during a performance of a new kind of entertainment known as "grafting." She intends her graft to be a song of this new Joan  and an epic defiance of the fascist regime in which she lives.

The author is clearly talented and this book has garnered lavish praise and it's easy to see why. She has created an elaborate construct for her near-future story with its overtly political message--the villain is a "rage-mouthed" former lifestyle guru-turned unlikely celebrity-turned billionaire-turned politician. Who could that possibly remind us of? The book's prose is quite consciously incendiary--the novel's first words are, "Burning is an art," and much of what comes in the next pages has to do with the delicate art of "grafting," a form of scarification carried out as a medium of communication. (The details are not for the squeamish.)

The author is consciously evoking literary sources, sometimes in ways that are meta deep, as when she names one of the book's livelier characters Trinculo. The character is from The Tempest which is the source of the quote that became the title of that dystopian classic, Brave New World. The narrator is named Christine Pizan, which some readers will recognize as the name of the medieval feminist Christine de Pizan, who wrote The Book of the City of Ladies. That's not a coincidence. So it's all a lot of fun playing literary games with the subtext in this riff on Joan of Arc. But here's why I was disappointed. I actually wanted to see what the author would do with that premise and found that her literary style and lofty ambitions for the material actually got in the way of what might have been a terrific story.

The book succeeds as a literary work but I think a good adventure might have been lost in the shuffle. But reading the rapturous reviews, I'm clearly in the minority.

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