Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 22, 2020

Fauna, by Donna Mazza

Fauna is a compelling novel, I started it last night and loafed in bed today until I’d finished reading it.  The really interesting thing about it, is that although you find out what happens in the end, you don’t, not really, and that is very creepy indeed. The novel is a highly intelligent work of fiction which made me think of the disconcerting issues raised by Paddy O’Reilly’s remarkable novel The Wonders which also raised questions about what it is that makes us human.

Fauna is set in a very near future, in a world so very nearly like the present.  It begins in the everyday Perth suburbs, with a family eating takeaway in the messiness of daily life, the kids Emmy and Jake going to school and weekend sport, Isak (the father) busy with work and paying the bills, and Stacey, newly pregnant ad wholly absorbed in her future child.  There are brief allusions to the messiness of the world on TV, and to the comfort and relief of watching people cook and renovate houses. 

But with the birth of the infant, the family takes up an offer of a lifestyle far beyond their means and they move to a beautiful but isolated property in southwest WA where the family’s predicament is less likely to arouse interest.  This suits the researchers who are operating on the edges of legality but it exacerbates Stacey’s loneliness.  Like The Wonders, this novel draws attention to the intrusive media which can make life hell for anyone who is different, and she fears interaction with anyone outside their small family in case awkward questions are asked.  Because what this couple have done is to assuage their longing for another child by participating in an IVF research project which mixes their genes with those of some other creature.  It’s part of a project to reverse the extinction of creatures like the Tasmanian Tiger.  LifeBLOOD® does not tell them much about what they are in for, but with the arrival of Asta, their anxieties move far beyond worrying about whether their semi-human offspring will be hairy or not.

The novel traces Asta’s development year by year in successive chapters, and what becomes clear is that the confidentiality provisions of the contract they have signed have turned their lives into something resembling a witness protection program.  Stacey has had a difficult childhood due to her mother’s peripatetic lifestyle, and her only family connection now is with a brother who also fled Australia but—unlike Stacey—stayed overseas.  She cannot share her anxieties with him, and as the novel progresses their predicament impacts on her relationship with Isak as well as on their other two children.  The economy with which Mazza conveys this is more powerful for being open-ended.  When Stacey sends photos of her new house to Alex, he replies with ‘Did you win the lottery and not share with me?’ Stacey does not reply.

In some ways she is her own worst enemy, choosing not to take advantage of opportunities to get to know well-meaning locals who assume that Asta is a special needs child with a rare genetic disorder.  That’s how the couple have been advised to counter curiosity about her appearance, but unlike Isak, Stacey isn’t comfortable with this.  Like most of us, Stacey has not read the fine print, and finds the explanatory website alienating and confusing.  But as Asta grows, her future as an investment by LifeBlood® becomes harder for Stacey to deny, and eventually she takes extreme action to protect the child to whom she is utterly devoted, at the expense of everything else.

The setting is evoked in beautiful prose, contrasting the nature that surrounds them with the nightmarish use of technology for obscene profit. On the day Stacey drops her kids off at their new school, there is a violent storm:

Veined with sea foam, the waves curl and crash, spraying high into the wind.  Mist hurls back, dampens my shaking car.  Black coastal rocks bathed and tangled in a lacework of foam.  An endless race of breaking water headed for the coast one after another.  A great queue out there across the expanse.

The sea has risen with the storm, grown as if there is more of it.  It triggers images of the future.  Perhaps somewhere across the ocean there is a coast depleted when we are overwhelmed.

A band of sunlight falls on the green horizon, distant flecks and sprays of white-capped waves tell me this churning will go on for a few hours yet.

The car windows have misted over with our breath.  The lovely child fills her baby seat with her broad body.  She sleeps soundly, her wide lashes fanned against her pale cheeks.  Mothers with blond children walk by, their little ones packed tight against the wind, and she is here, hidden from view in the still-cold air of the car.  (p.177)

I couldn’t find book group notes at the Allen & Unwin website but I doubt if they would be needed.  Start by asking ‘what did you think?’ and the discussion will outlast the wine and nibbles, for sure!

Author: Donna Mazza
Title: Fauna
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020
ISBN: 9781760876302, pbk, 312 pages
Source: Bayside Library

Available from Fishpond:Fauna and good bookshops everywhere


Responses

  1. Sounds like a very interesting premise and just a bit creepy!

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    • You would love this, Marg, I know you would!

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  2. Sounds intriguing Lisa …

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  3. Wow! This does sound immersive…

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  4. Almost bought this yesterday. Now I’ve seen your review I’ll have to go back to the shop … or maybe check the library.

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  5. Leaving aside the issues surrounding why the company wants to do the project (though that is a huge issue in itself) what makes the emotional issues so profound is that the woman is not a surrogate, she is the mother of an infant whose genes comprise those of the mother and her husband, and the unknown Other. So there is emotional investment as well as financial investment, muddied by whether the reader thinks the product of mixing these genes is human or not.

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  6. I don’t know if I could cope with this premise. Certainly sounds unusual.

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    • Did you ever read Peter Hoeg’s The Woman and the Ape? If you look that up at Goodreads, read the description and then the first para of the first review, it covers the same issue: how far should science go in the human/animal world? I’ve never forgotten that book and I don’t think I’ll forget this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No I’ve not heard of it. It’s not a genre I’m drawn to but that doesn’t mean much. I surprise myself with things I think I won’t like and then do.

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  7. I agree with you, Lisa—what a fabulous choice for book clubs Fauna would be!

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    • One of my local libraries is going to choose it for their book club:)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] There’s only one review at Goodreads, from a reader who found the characters really annoying.  Yet the novel won the TAG Hungerford award for an unpublished MS in 2005, and the author went on to write Fauna, a novel which I found very interesting indeed. […]

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  9. For some reason that can’t quite put my finger on, I find even the cover of this book unsettling.

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    • Yes, it’s a rare example of The Cropped Woman being the right kind of image!

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  10. […] Fauna, by Donna Mazza […]

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  11. […] I’m thinking: Yes – it cane be my dystopian read for this year (and also on the strength of Lisa’s review). […]

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