Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 10, 2018

Our Life in the Forest, by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston

Our Life in the Forest by French author Marie Darrieussecq, is a book both strange and familiar.  It’s strange because it’s set in a dystopian otherworld of clones and advanced technologies, and it’s familiar because the created society uses the common tropes of speculative fiction: haves and have-nots; clones disconcertingly like humans; inescapable surveillance systems; and rebels who have fled back to nature.  Comparisons with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) are inevitable because of the theme of organ-harvesting…

The narrator is one of the rebels.  An orphan with no family ties (and only memories of a difficult relationship with her mother), she has fled to the forest at the instigation of a like-minded soul, and they have rescued the ‘halves’, i.e. the clones ‘bred’ to provide replacement body parts for their failing bodies.  These ‘halves’ have been kept in a vegetative state in the Centre since birth: they are said to have no brains and therefore no feelings. Like other ‘lucky ones’ who have a clone, the narrator has already accessed some body parts.  She’s had a lung transplant and a kidney transplant, and now she needs an eye.

However, this narrator, a psychologist by trade, has developed an attachment to her clone and – having visited her daily at the Centre and now in the forest taught ‘Marie’ to walk and behave somewhat like a human – she is repelled by the idea of harvesting her organs again.  Narrative tension is ensured by the urgency of her declining health, and by the sense of the surveillance systems closing in on their refuge.  Her self-conscious and disjointed narrative and occasional references to being unnaturally cold show that she is very unwell, a fact that triggered her flight in the first place.

The crisis of identity occurs when she sees a video that reveals more about the basis of her society than she had ever imagined.

Darrieussecq (born in 1969) is a prolific and popular author in France, and many of her titles seem to be available in translation.  In 2013 she won the Prix Médicis and the Prix des Prix for her novel Men, and she has been nominated for many prestigious prizes including the Prix Goncourt, the Dublin IMPAC and Prix Fémina.  A full-time writer since completing her PhD in French Literature, she has published about 15 books for adults, including novels, short fiction, a play and some nonfiction as well.

Wikipedia tells me that Darrieussecq is preoccupied by themes of disappearance and absence; identity and belonging; mother-child relationships and the traumatic transformation of bodies.  Well, those themes are certainly present in Our Life in the Forest, and so is her practice of creating a female central character, but while the book is quite interesting to read, it doesn’t seem particularly original to me.  But there are many enthusiastic reviews at Goodreads, and perhaps if I hadn’t already read Never Let Me Go, I might have been more impressed.

I could claim to have read this book for #WITmonth, but thanks to the inspiring leadership of Stu at Winston’s Dad I read women in translation all the time (seven so far this year, 66 reviewed on this blog) and I hope you do too!

Author: Marie Darrieussecq
Title: Our Life in the Forest (Notre vie dans les forêts)
Translated from the French by Penny Hueston
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2018, first published 2017
ISBN: 9781925603781
Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing

 


Responses

  1. Sounds ok, though as you say others have also done the clones for body parts thing. I wonder what the economics of being a full time writer in French are, not so many readers as in the Anglosphere.

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    • I don’t know. Emma would know more about that but she’s gadding about in Australia at the moment!

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  2. I have this one yet to read, and I’m not sure I’ll like it to be honest.

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    • Maybe it’s the curse of the prolific writer that has struck?

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      • No it’s the organ harvesting thing.

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        • Yes, that creeps me out too.

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