The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch


Jill's take on The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

We purchased The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch at Powell's Books while we were house sitting in Portland, OR. we sort of went on a spree while there and this was but one of the books in the pile that we decided to purchase. 

I had a feeling just prior to buying The Book of Joan that I had been primarily reading books written by men. Looking back at the list of books we've reviewed tells me that maybe I'm closer to an even split, but there was something in the air that just made me feel I had been concentrating too much on male authors. So it was with a little purpose that I focused on trying to find books that interested me that were written by women. It just so happens that the two books we purchased by women also were about the end of the world. Which also seems to be a kick I'm on lately.

I was terribly excited about reading The Book of Joan after I made my way through several pages in my pre-read. I wish that excitement could have lasted throughout the entire book. I loved the moments in the book when Yuknavitch is actually describing Joan and her life and what sort of power she had developed. How Joan seemed a bit conflicted at times but then at others kind of brash, maybe? I felt like there was too little of Joan in the book. Sure, she was the underpinning of all the events that happen, but I feel the writing just came more alive in the descriptions about her.

The bulk of the book focused on the aftermath of Joan. Earth's destruction, humans fleeing to space pods and cult like figures leading the new frontier. Of course there's conflict and of course things are not all what they seem. I did like some of the treatment of the "new world" and the impacts on humans, but overall I felt like maybe it was not the real story Yuknavitch was interested in telling. 

Some of the inventions are neat and the changes to peoples' bodies are inventive. Maybe the one thing that kept me from liking the entire book more than I did was one character. Trinculo. First off, I don't know why but the name puts me off. Maybe it's the reference to Shakespeare or maybe she used this name because of the references to space, or maybe it was both. Whatever the reason this character just rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, the language he uses feel so forced and pitiful. He brought to mind a lech at a bar who thinks he's funny when he refers to women as dames. I don't know, I wanted more than this. I wanted strong women and strong men. I wanted resolution to all the shit we see in the world between the sexes today. I didn't want a character bringing his outdated speak to a new and complicated world once we've fully destroyed the earth.

This book is complicated for me. I like the idea and I like the bulk of the writing in the book. I cautiously recommend it if you are looking to further your "end of days" reading. 

Zac's take on The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

I'm tempted to take the Bill Gates approach to book reviews - which is to say he doesn't waste his time reviewing books he doesn't like. It draws attention to them and it's a waste of time. But I'm not Bill Gates. And I want to warn you against reading this book.

The concept is interesting - earth is destroyed and those who are left live on ships floating above the atmosphere, with long thin tentacles roping down to suck anything that is left of earth for their own benefit. Many days it feels like we are doing that. As humans we exist outside the general laws of nature, or pretend our best that this is the case. We have written ourselves out of the circle of nature since we are its greatest observer. Animals die and give themselves back to the earth. We preserve our bodies with chemicals and bury ourselves in boxes that will never disintegrate.

But that is just about where the interesting part ends and the heavy reliance on the work of others comes in. Yaknavitch uses things like character names as a shortcut - hoping that her character Joan, who is burned ceremoniously at the stake, evokes in the reader the real Joan of Arc, and by doing so she avoids doing some heavy lifting. It's not actually name dropping, which would be tolerable in certain circumstances like historical novels. But this is not a historical novel, so the thin comparison cannot be used to carry any weight in this novel. It just doesn't work. It's as if she is hoping you know the story of Joan of Arc and tries to use the "juice" and power of that story simply by using the name. It's irritating as hell. 

So from this basic incorrect assumption, she builds entire plot structures, thinking that we give two shits about Joan or any of the other characters without actually building them herself and bringing us on the journey. There is one ridiculous scene where a play is performed during which we are told there would be an assassination at the climax of the play - during the scenes where this play is written, we are basically told that the players will all die and I thought - you didn't tell me one thing about these people, so how am I supposed to care that they are giving up their lives?

The play itself came off as well as if you were actually at a play and the main actor turned to the audience and said "Hey, do you know that scene in Hamlet, where Polonius is stabbed through the curtain? Yeah, this scene is like that, so keep it in mind while we just stand here and twiddle our thumbs. Thanks!"

I was honestly surprised that this novel was published, that it was a "bestseller" and was on a list of 100 notable books according to the New York Times Book Review.