Saturday, 22 December 2018

Review: 'Our Life in the Forest' by Marie Darrieussecq, trans. Penny Hueston

I was drawn to Our Life in the Forest for many different reasons. I adore reading literature in translation because it is fascinating to explore a genre through a different culture. I had never heard of Marie Darrieussecq before Our Life in the Forest, but that is another bonus to reading translated literature, you get to discover “new authors”. A big theme in Darrieussecq’s writing has been transformations of the body and that is one of the key theme in Our Life in the Forest that drew me to the book. I went into it with hardly any expectations but was blown away by the book in the end, unwilling for it to end. Thanks to Text Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/25/2018
Publisher: Text Publishing

Translated by Penny Hueston 
In the near future, a woman is writing in the depths of a forest. She’s cold. Her body is falling apart, as is the world around her. She’s lost the use of one eye; she’s down to one kidney, one lung. Before, in the city, she was a psychotherapist, treating patients who had suffered trauma, in particular a man, “the clicker”. Every two weeks, she travelled out to the Rest Centre, to visit her “half”, Marie, her spitting image, who lay in an induced coma, her body parts available whenever the woman needed them. 
As a form of resistance against the terror in the city, the woman flees, along with other fugitives and their halves. But life in the forest is disturbing too—the reanimated halves are behaving like uninhibited adolescents. And when she sees a shocking image of herself on video, are her worst fears confirmed? 
Our Life in the Forest, written in her inimitable concise, vivid prose recalls Darrieussecq’s brilliant debut, Pig Tales. A dystopian tale in the vein of Never Let Me Go, this is a clever novel of chilling suspense that challenges our ideas about the future, about organ-trafficking, about identity, clones, and the place of the individual in a surveillance state
Dystopian novels have never held that much of a fascination for me. I love watching those movies, perhaps because I’m more interested in the aesthetics of it than anything else. But I find that reading about our current reality is providing me with enough moments of ‘Where did we go wrong?’ and ‘I never thought we would end up here?’ so that Dystopian fiction usually falls by the wayside. However, Our Life in the Forest managed to sneak in, in part because of its initially innocuous cover which seems so innocent with its lined note, tree foliage and casual body parts. Somehow it did not prepare me for what was on the inside and yet it gave me a kind of glimpse at both the simplicity and cruelty that is on the inside. Our Life in the Forest will surprise you at every turn. Every new revelation changes the story, changes how you see the characters and what you think of the world Darrieussecq creates. 

In Our Life in the Forest, our recently renamed (by herself) narrator, once Marie and now Valerie, is lying in the forest, close to death. The novel is her final note in which she writes down her story with the awareness her life is about to end. Throughout her narrative she interrupts herself, suddenly aware of how close the end is, and it brings a sense of urgency to her story as she hops anachronistically through her life. We witness her as a young child, a worried psychoanalyst, a moody teenager, a lost rebel, and it all comes together to create a portrait of a tough but worn out woman who has seen too much. The twists and turns of her life surprise even her and there is a freshness to her tone that prevents it from feeling rehashed. 

 Darrieussecq’s writing throughout Our Life in the Forest is very clear and straight forward. She writes in brief sentences that get to the point. Despite her situation, Valerie doesn’t become dramatic and manages the explain the complexities of just what has happened with stunning brevity. What I occasionally dislike about Dystopian novels is just how much detail the authors feel they have to give in order to justify how their world looks. Darrieussecq does the opposite and lets the ordinariness of her narrator speak for itself. Her story feels so normal that it is horrifying in its own right. What scares me more than anything is the mundanity of evil, how simple deceit is and how blindly we trust that the truth we know is the truth. Darrieussecq picks up on these themes and manages to weave a narrative that is both enlightening and scary.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I was sucked into Our Life in the Forest almost immediately, first because I was trying to figure out what was happening and then because I had secretly become invested in what is happening. Darrieussecq’s novel is an exploration of physical and emotional transformation, of loss and of trust. For anyone open to mindbender, please read Our Life in the Forest!

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