The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

I mean to give myself two birthday presents before I’m forced to leave this existence and turn to dust and energy. The first is a recorded history. Oh, I know, there’s a good chance this won’t attract the epic attention I am shooting for. On the other hand, smaller spectacles have moved epochs. And anyway, I’ve got that gnawing human compulsion to tell what happened.

The second present is a more physical lesson. I am an expert at skin grafting, the new form of storytelling. I intend to leave the wealth of my knowledge and skill behind. And the last of my grafts I intend to be a masterwork.

2049. Christine Pizan lives on CIEL, a free-floating space station which siphons resources from the ravaged, dying Earth below. At 49, Christine is a year from the time when residents of CIEL die to make room for others; she’s determined she’s going out in spectacular fashion.

CIEL’s leader is Jean de Men. He’s risen from self-help guru to author to TV star to military leader. I have no idea who Yuknavitch was thinking of when she gave Pizan the line ‘We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.’

Jean de Men wrote CIEL’s most famous narrative graft, a romance. The irony of this being that CIEL’s inhabitants are mostly genderless and without genitalia. Humans have devolved.

It was a wish like the moth’s wish for flame. It was a wish to fuck the sun. To be burned alive inside a story where our bodies could still want and do what bodies want to do.

Grafting, creating skin stories, is the latest entertainment and a way of telling someone’s worth and social class. It’s how Christine earns a living. It’s also how she’s waged war against Jean de Men. In his stories, ‘all the women […] demanded to be raped’. In hers she re-creates the story of people’s bodies ‘as desiring abysses, creation and destruction’. Her work has inspired women to reclaim their bodies, their space, themselves.

A new philosophy took hold and pulsed: the idea that men and women – or the distinction between men and women – was radically and forever dead.

Christine’s partner-in-crime is her oldest friend and the love of her life, Trinculo. Trinculo is an engineer, inventor and illustrator, the person who designed and engineered CIEL. When we meet him, he’s wearing a belt garnered with vibrating appendages. The two main crimes on CIEL? Any acts that resemble the act or idea of sex and anything other than blind allegiance to Joan of Dirt’s official death story, the one where she was burnt at the stake. Clearly Trinculo’s taking charge of breaking the first law. The second? Christine’s last graft, her masterwork, the story she’s going to tell the reader, is the true story of Joan.

In a reworked version of the story of Joan of Arc, told by Christine de Pizan, Yuknavitch considers the damage we’re doing to Earth and to humanity. How we’ve made ourselves more important than the universe because we can’t cope with the idea that we’re a small, insignificant part of it. She looks at our need to take and hold onto power and the myriad ways in which women are belittled in order for this to happen.

The voice and tone of the novel is fierce from beginning to end. It is also very funny in parts. Trinculo, in particular, pertains to play the part of the joker, quoting insults from a favourite childhood app which generated medieval insults.

The Book of Joan is furious, eloquent and inventive. The best feminist dystopia since The Power and an early contender for one of my books of the year.

Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.

In the Media: May 2017

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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In prize news, the Granta Best of Young American Novelists list was announced:

Fiona McFarlane took The Dylan Thomas Prize for her short story collection The High Places, Maylis de Kerangal won The Wellcome Book Prize, and Sarah Perry and Kiran Millwood-Hargrave were winners at The British Book Awards. While Kit de Waal and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan were shortlisted for The Desmond Elliott Prize.

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Chris Kraus and I Love Dick are having a moment:

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And The Handmaid’s Tale has generated even more pieces:

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, April 2017, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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Photograph by Pari Dukovic

The Handmaid’s Tale is having a moment due to the television serial airing this coming week and the current political situation in America (and beyond).

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As one series begins, another ended this week:

And in women win prizes, ‘Heather Rose wins the Stella Prize for a novel that wouldn’t ‘let her go’‘ as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Photograph by Adrienne Mathiowetz

Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media, April 2017, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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Photograph by Murdo MacLeod

 

Women have been dominating the prize wins for the past fortnight. Hollie McNish won the Ted Hughes Prize and Kiran Millwood Hargrave won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with The Girl of Ink and Stars.

While The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced. Rebecca May Johnson writes ‘Notes on . . . the Baileys Women’s Prize‘ (and reading women more generally) in the Financial Times. There are interviews with several of the longlisted writers on the prize’s site: Madeleine Thien, Naomi Alderman, Linda Grant, Yewande Omotoso, Heather O’Neill, Fiona Melrose, Eimear McBride, Emma Flint.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media: January 2016

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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January’s been living up to it’s reputation as the most miserable month in the calendar. There’s been the misogynistic and racist response to Sarah Howe’s Young Writer of the Year Award and TS Eliot Award wins. Poet, Katy Evans-Bush responded with ‘TS Eliot prize row: is winner too young, beautiful – and Chinese?‘ in The Guardian.

The deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman at least inspired some great writing: Stacey May Fowles, ‘Reconciling David Bowie‘ on Hazlitt and Sali Hughes, ‘I’ve had it up to here with the grief police‘ on The Pool. Gwendolyn Smith, ‘Forget Snape – in concentrating on him, we leave out one of the greatest roles Alan Rickman ever performed‘ in The Independent and Daisy Buchanan, ‘Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon taught me an important lesson about love‘ on The Pool

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In happier news, there were a number of other prize wins for female writers: Kate Atkinson won the Costa Novel PrizeAnuradha Roy won the 2016 DSC prize for south Asian literature; A.S. Byatt won the Erasmus Prize, and the writers shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award were revealed, including Annalisa Crawford, Peggy Riley and Erin Soros.

Glamour welcomed a transgender columnist: Juno Dawson will chart her journey in the magazine. I’ll add Juno’s column to the regular columnists list once it has a permanent URL.

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The Observer revealed their New Faces of Fiction for 2016 and Joanna Cannon wrote this great piece – The Monster Under the Bed – about her inclusion.

And the woman with the most publicity of late is Amy Liptrot with ‘I swam in the cold ocean and dyed my hair a furious blue… I was moving upwards slowly‘ in The Guardian; interviews in The Independent and The Pool.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

kavita

Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists: