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I get the feeling The Book of Joan is going to be a Marmite book, there were definitely parts I liked more than others and some things I felt I needed better knowledge to really get. If you have an interest in gender identity an body art, you’ll probably get different things out of this, at times surreal, book.
We are what happens when the seemingly unthinkable celebrity rises to power.
I only knew the basics about Joan of Arc, although since I have read up a bit more on her, for instance her trial for heresy was based on her cross-dressing in male clothes in order to deter rape in prison. Later, when she was pardoned, the Catholic Church said that’s a totally acceptable reason to cross-dress. Anyway, this fact felt relevant to the contents of this book.
The human race is dying. A geocataclysm has wiped out plant life and destroyed the reproductive organs of people, they are now effectively genderless, despite remembering what it was once like to be otherwise. Orbiting Earth is CIEL, a group of the privileged few who are permitted to live until the age of 50. Christine is one of them, a specialist in grafting, burning stories into skin. It’s pretty much the only sensory experience they have left.
Love was never meant to be less than electrical impulse and the energy of matter, but that was no small thing. The Earth’s heartbeat or pulse or telluric current, no small thing. The stuff of life itself.
I was a bit thrown off by it being set in 2049. I know humanity’s set on a course of destruction but it all seems a bit too quick and it wasn’t necessary to state the date. It’s a very short shelf-life for a science fiction novel.
Where does Joan fit in? Christine is burning her story onto her body, the Book of Joan. She was on the side against CIEL in the never-ending wars. She starting seeing visions as a girl, seeing a future where there was nothing but suffering, nothing but war. And she had the power to stop it.
But Joan knew one thing we never learned: to end war meant to end its maker, to marry creation and destruction rather than hold them in false opposition.
Once captured, CIEL sentences Joan to burning at the stake, a symbolic exceution to send a message and make a spectacele. As the books goes on, whate appears to be a bit random and weird turns out to all be connected. Christines burns as Joan burnt.
I enjoyed the parts that followed Joan, back on Earth, a lot more. There’s a lot about environmental damage but also about how life goes on. Perhaps not humans, but other life will evolve and take our place. Whilst it felt hopeless for a while, the ending isn’t without hope. There are some excellent passages and themes, but sometimes it was just a bit on the weird side for me.
At the heart of torture there is a brutality beyond inflicting pain. It is the brutality of stealing an identity, a sense of self, a soul.
It certainly feels like a book written is the political climate of 2016/17. You can’t help but see elements of Trump in Jean de Men.
Warning, the book contains some extreme violence and is a little vulgar in places.
The Book of Joan is published by Canongate and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 18th January 2018. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review. I also have a finished copy and tote bag to give away to one lucky reader. The giveaway is open internationally and entry is via the Rafflecopter below.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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