Lidia Yuknavitch’s latest novel is a dystopian reimagining of Joan of Arc. Set in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by radioactive fallout following several world wars. Survivors are white, sexless, hairless creatures who live as slaves under CIEL’s tyrannical rule; these creatures inscribe epic stories onto their skin. Other humans — the wealthy — have escaped and now hover safely above Earth. CIEL is headed by Jean de Men, a sadistic leader who rules with an iron fist.
Jean de Men is believed to have killed a child named Joan of Dirt, turning her into a martyr for a resistance that is brewing. Joan glows blue light and has a mystical relationship with the Earth; she has the power to destroy, but she also has the power to bring things back to life. In this new world, where everyone’s genitalia has basically shriveled up and fallen off, her powers have made her the stuff of legend. One of the sexless slaves, Christine Pizan (a nod to 12th-century proto-feminist author Christine de Pizan), is particularly enamored with Joan of Dirt’s story.
I’m off for the summer now and I’ve spent the last week working almost nonstop on a quilt, so I actually ended up listening to this book from start to finish in one day. Even with that intense focus, at the end, I was like…what the hell is going on and what did I just listen to?
This was my first time interacting with Yuknavitch’s work, and while I could definitely appreciate the feminist themes — women’s relationship with their body, not to mention the nods to Joan of Arc and Pizan — there were a lot of things that didn’t work for me. For one, considering everyone is now sexless, the first part of the book is pretty hypersexual. That’s fine, but I was just like…what exactly are they doing if there’s nothing to give them pleasure? There are also weird physics things in the book, especially leading towards the climax, that didn’t really make sense. And the subplots, Christine Pizan’s included, were just distracting.
I can’t exactly say that I didn’t like the book — the writing is beautiful at times, and interesting ideas do pop up — but I can’t exactly say I liked it either. It’s just really messy and weird.
The Book of Joan was released in April 2017 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.