Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Our Life in the Forest

Rate this book
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 Darrieusecq’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.

192 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Marie Darrieussecq

83 books174 followers
Marie Darrieussecq was born on January 3, 1969. She was raised in a small village in the Basque Country.

While finishing her PhD in French Literature, she wrote her first novel, Truismes (Pig Tales) which was published in September 1996 by Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens (POL), who have published all her subsequent novels as well. After the success of Truismes, Darrieussecq decided to quit her teaching position at the University of Lille to concentrate on writing her novels. Her first husband was a mathematician, her second is an astrophysicist. She gave birth to a son in 2001 and to a daughter in 2004.

She endorsed Ségolène Royal's candidacy during the French Presidential Elections of 2007.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
73 (15%)
4 stars
176 (36%)
3 stars
168 (34%)
2 stars
55 (11%)
1 star
12 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews
Profile Image for Jane.
385 reviews607 followers
November 22, 2018
I think I wanted to like Our Life in the Forest more than I actually did like the book. Marie Darrieussecq has created an intriguing world in the near future where humans are more connected (and reliant on computers and robots) than ever, cloning has advanced to the point that most people have at minimum a "jar" of spare organs, and those who are luckiest have full clones (called their "halves" to replace any little body bit that may be needed.

Told in the style of an almost-stream-of-consciousness journal, a woman is describing snippets of her past mixed in with a description of her present, where she has joined a resistance group living in the forest. Without access to the medical technology needed to replace some of her failing organs, she is slowly falling apart. Although she is down to just one eye, she's finally beginning to see a clearer picture of the world in which they all live.

I really like the world that Darreussecq has created, but for me, the story was a bit slower than I wanted it to be, and although I understand the style of this writing worked better without them, I was irked throughout at the complete lack of chapters. I think people who enjoyed the deliberate slow pacing and intrigue level of Foe or Station Eleven will probably like this more than I did.

Badass Female Character score: 3.5/5 -- The protagonist is a bit wishy-washy about things, but when push comes to shove, she has managed to join the resistance!

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a DRC of this book.
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,128 followers
August 8, 2019
1984 meets Never Let Me Go

Dystopian novels nowadays are often lurid action-fantasies – lots of colourful world-building, heightened drama, a pessimistic but cathartic “look how bad things could get”. But Our Life in the Forest harkens back to a quieter, more existential mode of dystopia. Minimalistic, both in terms of plot and character, it’s not so much about building a world as it is commenting on the one that’s already here.

This very short novel takes the form of a journal – a notebook – written by the narrator as an account of the events that have led to her hiding in the forest. It’s essentially one long digressive monologue, frequently punctuated with ‘Where was I?’, ‘I’m cold’, and ‘Whatever.’ The whole thing has a jaded tone:

“Boredom is physical. You don’t know how you’re going to live the very next minute. You’re supposed to fit your body somewhere, in space, but it’s pointless. You’re squashed inside the three stupid dimensions, and you wish you could disintegrate.”

Viviane (aka Marie) is not merely detached, she’s fed up, bitter, sarcastic, blasé. She’s not at all endearing, but as a product of her circumstances, what else should we expect? Viviane addresses her hopeless monologue, at times as if she can hardly be bothered, to an imaginary audience that is just as stuck in the same nightmare.

“When you go looking for information about Dolly, you realise that perhaps, technically, she didn’t die from being a clone. She died a stupid death, from lung cancer, not because she smoked too much (ha!) but because (if I remember correctly everything I’ve read about her since I understood what the deal was with me) she slept inside and not outside like ordinary sheep do. They kept her inside for fear of her being stolen. The first ever clone. And when they’re inside, sheep’s lungs rot or whatever.”

This is a flickering vision that touches on: a surveillance state, machine learning, the commodification of bodies, and augmented life spans (but only for the rich). As food for thought, Our Life in the Forest is a satisfying mental snack.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
973 reviews1,198 followers
September 20, 2018
If I read or watch fictional dystopias, it’s not as often as a lot of people these past few years, and I go for scenarios in which society breaks down, not those in which it becomes more totalitarian. It was only because Our Life in the Forest is very short (if you also think in Kindle counts, it’s around 1200) and eligible for next year’s Booker International, that I requested an ARC. I never expected to find a book I would connect with so strongly.

A cover thumbnail had drawn me in a few weeks earlier, with its ostensibly attractive foliage pattern, but on closer inspection made me shudder at its inclusion of severed body parts – the effect was like a particularly gory example of those Timorous Beasties wallpapers that were fashionable in the 00s. I’ve never been able to read more than a few pages of Never Let Me Go, but the brevity of this book, and the fact it was told from the point of view of a recipient who rejects society, (rather than a farmed human victim/forced donor) made me think I might manage this one. And it interested me that the protagonist was a psychotherapist in debilitatingly poor physical health.

I had no idea that Marie / Viviane (she decides to change her own name to give her ‘farmed’ counterpart, who’d previously shared her name, an individual identity) would also be a specialist in EMDR. I did partial counsellor training in the past, and having found EMDR highly effective as a client, I was at that time thinking of going into it myself as a practitioner. I’ve also read a number of professional textbooks about EMDR. (The narrator was herself a client before becoming a therapist.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen EMDR in a novel before. I was for the most part extremely impressed with Darieussecq’s research. The narration was convincing as the voice of someone with psychotherapy training, and who still has to deal with significant problems in her own life - but from a different society. There are a few points on which she diverges from the literature, which I found easily attributable to the protagonist’s society demanding the not-quite-possible (notably trying to do EMDR on someone who hasn’t left the traumatic/stressful situation about which they are doing therapy) and to French psychology itself, which may use some slightly divergent approaches, and possibly has a corpus of different research studies and results. (I certainly don’t know all the ins and outs of how French psychology culture differs from Anglo-American, but there are some pretty major ones, such as the continued prevalence of Freudian-style psychoanalysis even in public sector offerings, and a low acceptance of autism and ADHD. What was undoubtedly French here was the unspoken norm of a public health service of wide scope, implicitly far better funded than anything in the UK, never mind the US.) I sometimes found that quibbles I had were addressed later in the narrative, for example the assertion that a ‘safe place’ can’t be imaginary, it must be a real place experienced: later the narrator accepts one that is imagined. I wasn’t sure if a couple of choices of specialist vocab made by the translator were intentional or not. Whether in saying ‘attachment disorder’, it does actually mean the particularly severe issue, most common among adopted and fostered children from abusive backgrounds, or one of the much commoner forms of insecure attachment, which can also have far reaching-effects in a person’s life. The translator has, throughout, used the term ‘patient’ rather than ‘client’. In English this has significance about the service and the therapeutic relationship, and it was impossible to tell whether that was deliberate. (‘Client’ is supposed to be more empowering and less pathologising, but it could equally be used negatively in a dystopia, in a Newspeak-like or consumerist manner.)

I loved the clear, often brief sentences in which the novella is written. The narrator communicates everything in a matter-of-fact, yet not emotionless, way, without purple prose or self-pity. A potentially complex situation becomes easier to understand because of clarity of the writing. The style communicates the ordinariness of living in a society run in ways you disagree with, of living with irresolvable medical issues and of doing difficult and painful things alone when you’ve no other choice – people do, to an extent, get used to unpleasantnesses that would make others exclaim when they heard about them. And it made me want to trim extraneous adjectives and clauses from my own writing.

I’d assumed this would be primarily a feminist dystopia, but the underlying themes in Our Life in the Forest are actually about economic inequality under tech-driven capitalism. I hope that in talking about these themes overtly, I don’t make the book sound too heavy-handed. I never experienced it as such; I was always caught up in the immediacy of the story and in relating to the narrator.

It is evidently a few decades in the future, at the latest the early 22nd century. (The narrator explains cultural references for those who may one day discover her notebooks - perhaps in some future society where information has been lost, or is more difficult to find than it is now on the internet - and the most recent reference is "Francis, a 21st century pope".) There are old self-driving taxis which often have mechanical faults with their doors. Most people have mandated always-on smart implants. There are frequent ‘attacks’ maintaining a climate of fear, and meaning that people are reluctant to go out – evidently echoing terrorist incidents in Paris over the last few years. Living spaces are tiny, like the notoriously small central Paris apartments, but many do not even have windows. The only mass lower-skilled job left is teaching emotional and idea-based associations to AI for $2 an hour. It sounds similar to currently-existing tasks like attaching genres to films you don’t get time to watch. (I actually said ‘thank you’ aloud to the writer for this implicit acknowledgement of the world of shitty low-paid online work which is so far from the lives in a lot of literary fiction, and later again when it becomes clear the main character with this job has talents that considerably exceed the remit of his work.) There are high expectations of good psychological health, yet people live in conditions far from conducive to it.

The narrator is a member of ‘the Generation’, a small experimental cohort of middle class people (now adults; the narrator is 40) for whom surrogate twins, ‘halves’, were also created for the purposes of providing body parts for medical situations where transplants may help. The ‘halves’ exist sedated in a hospital-like establishment. Many other people, on a marginally lower rung of society, have ‘jars’ with spare hearts and lungs, probably lab-grown, that are stored for them. And as there is a lot of ill-health, including among members of the Generation, these transplants are used more often than you might assume - and they don’t cure everything. As this is at the beginning of the story, it’s no spoiler to say that the narrator becomes a member of a resistance group that lives in a small area of remaining forest with halves they have freed, trying to teach them to function normally. (Under tree-cover, the drones can’t see you.) The halves, like lifelong institutionalised people moved into the community, have limited abilities. By the end I was reading the narrator’s guilt and wish to improve life for halves, and the impossibility of living with them free in the forest as true equals, as an allegory for being stuck, however much you care and however much you try, in an almost inescapable state of exploitation, whether that’s of animals, or of people in poorer countries making essential goods westerners use.

A final theme, which I also found personally very resonant, only becomes apparent near the end, when a major plot development explains a number of minor inconsistencies earlier in the book. It works better - it generates more empathy - as fiction than as fact.

This is a very short novel which concentrates on a handful of topics, and doesn’t try to cover all major social issues in France or the West. Racial inequality, for instance, is very briefly alluded to, but no more.

I’m not sure I can sell this to lots of friends as a 5-star read: sometimes books simply manage to find readers with the right, unusual combinations of experiences and interests, at the right time in their lives, and that was me and Our Life in the Forest. But as a 4-star, a compelling short dystopia with a narrator who is engagingly human in her coping and aloneness and flaws, and some pertinent political commentary, yes, I think so.

I received a free advance review copy from the publisher, Text Publishing UK, via Netgalley.
Profile Image for Uroš Đurković.
588 reviews134 followers
May 11, 2021
Pisan ubrzano, ali ne i nehajno, roman Mari Darijesek predstavlja jedinu ubitačnu kombinaciju postekologije, doslovno shvaćenog transhumanizma i psihoanalitičkog šašavila. Sve je to lepo obučeno u distopijsku memoarsku ispovest jednog ne-bića, terapeutkinje, koja razlistavajući sećanja svog života na ivici pokazuje različite oblike opustošenosti. Njen grozničavi „dan nakon poslednjeg dana” može da se čita kao bomba užarenih bioetičkih pitanja ili kao rastezanje samog pisanja kao institucija samopotvrđivanja. I nema tu šta nema: od transplantacije organa, prava životinja, dronova, klonova, dvojnika, rascepa ličnosti, humanoida, sve do ženskog pisma i refleksa autofikcije (na čemu je autorka doktorirala pre više od dve decenije). Neverovatna kombinacija – i oporo i otkačeno i uvrnuto i vrlo komunikativno i, pre svega, blistavo inteligentno i vešto napisano.

Junakinjini autonarativi kao vreli krompirići skakuću iz dlana jedne stranice na dlan naredne, čineći da čitalac stalno zauzima rekonstruktivnu ulogu – malo šta nam je tu jasno, ali sve, zapravo, umesto da se razlaže u apstrakciji, kipti od priča u pozadini. Iz obrisa naratorkine ispovesti pulsira uznemirujući svet, u koji smo u nekim vidovima već zagazili. Ali nevolja sa distopijama je što ih neretko tumačimo kao proročke, a ne projektivne konstrukcije, što je ovde svakako slučaj. Darijesek nije moralizator, ali je neko ko i kroz formu i kroz sadržaj razume ne samo ovo već i buduća vremena i gotovo da imam osećaj da nam je neko iz kog veka nakon našeg poslao vremensku kapsulu sa tekstom dela.

Sve u svemu, onespokojavajući, meandrirajući i nagrađujući izazov za sve književne sladostrasnike i sladostrasnice.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,785 reviews1,625 followers
June 28, 2018
I came across this whilst searching for something really unique to read - this completely fit the bill! The synopsis drew me in immediately and the premise was a fantastic one from a writer who's imagination must be fairly active to "dream up" this concept. Darrieussecq broaches some interesting and important topics such as organ-trafficking, identity, clones, animal rights, surveillance, class, and the environment.

"Our Life in the Forest" can best be described as a modern Frankensteinesque tale set in the not-so-distant future and where 'halves' are kept in an induced coma in order to ensure that their organs are available for replacement. After hearing a revelation about the true nature of the 'halves' Vivienne and her half, Marie, along with other fugitives flee the city to the relative safety of the forest. Or so she thinks but life in the forest is disturbing, too.

This is an intelligent and cleverly written book with bags of originality. I must admit, I hadn't come across Darrieussecq's work before this but I am considering acquiring some to see if they are all as excellent as this was. It took a little while for me to appreciate the writing but before long I had grasped it and it became a hypnotic and beautiful experience. The characters were great, I felt invested in them and the outcome of their stories from the very beginning and that carried right through until the finale. I found the conclusion a satisfying end to the novel.

A deceptively dark and intense dystopian thriller where the mass population exist solely to provide organs to the wealthy should they need them. Rather a disturbing concept, don't you think? Told from Vivienne's point-of-view in what is supposed to be entries from her journal, it may take a little getting used to but once you get into it it works well.

If you enjoyed "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro then you'll likely find this interesting, too. Worthy of your time for sure, especially if you like dystopian novels.

Many thanks to Text Publishing for an ARC. I was not required to post a review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Profile Image for Robin Bonne.
629 reviews143 followers
August 3, 2018
This is written as a fictional memoir of a therapist that specializes in trauma. The dystopian timeline she details is riveting. The world is filled with drones, robots, and the general sense of an Orwellian corrupt government. The pacing of the story was nearly perfect for me and kept me reading. This is one of those books that is unforgettable and I will end up recalling years after I’ve finished it.

In this future, people can have clones of themselves created as an insurance policy for their organs. If someone’s kidney goes bad, they get a new one harvested from their clone. The therapist’s parents had a clone created for her when she was born. The protagonist received a lung transplant from her “half” and eventually received clearance to see her half in her medically induced coma. She becomes obsessed with her half.

As a therapist, she is seeing a patient that is going to turn her life inside out. He doesn’t like to talk, and he doesn’t drink the water.

There is so much that I love about this book that I don’t even know where to begin. PTSD is accurately described and fairly represented. The author seamlessly blends psychology into her dystopian future which gave the story a depth that surprised me, considering it is a fast read. The protagonist’s thoughts, and actions felt realistic within the plot.

Overall, a very compelling read. I don’t often give 5 stars but this deserved them.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,598 reviews1 follower
June 6, 2018
The author states she is influenced by Kafka and Orwell - which fits into the theme of this novel about a future world where clones are born and raised to provide an ongoing supply of organs to the few rich enough to afford them. Life expectation is quite low due to pollution, modified foods and some unspecified on-going war. Hence organ replacement is a common procedure for the rich.

The narrator is a psychoanalyst Vivianne who has a "halve" called Marie. Her health is poor but that is OK as Marie can be used for replacement bits. A series of events make Vivianne change her view of what is going on and she escapes to a colony of rebels in the forest.

The book include themes of greed, the unknown impact of cloning, adaption to a changing world, the way society is melded to the needs of a few and the endless increasing use of surveillance to control the masses.

Vivianne writes her story for future readers but the style used is like she is talking to the reader; the effect to me was it feels a very believable story. Vivianne also uses a lot of references to people, events or things. Even though the book is set in the future, all of the references have occurred in pre 21st century time. This gives the book a feel that this story is set not too far in the future.

Thanks to Net Galley and Text Publishing.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,686 reviews636 followers
March 21, 2019
I’ve read a couple of Marie Darrieussecq’s other novels, Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation and White, neither of which I was particularly keen on. I much prefer ‘Our Life in the Forest’, which like the other two follows a woman going through some visceral bodily weirdness. The first person narrator, also called Marie, is trying to explain what’s happening before her organs shut down. Her voice is distinctive and compelling, her situation deeply unsettling. In this near future world, rich people have clones that they keep for spare parts, known as halves. Marie, who works as a therapist, is one of those who form emotional attachments to their comatose ‘halves’. Eventually, she flees into the forest with her half, to join a secret community there. Although the blurb implies that halves behaviour animates the plot, in fact the narrative is one of slow progress towards grim realisation.

Darriessecq colours the narrative with many memorable details that merit the term dystopian. I particularly liked the job of the clicker: training deep learning networks to make associations between things.

The clicker came to speak to me about the infinite tedium of his duties. It is envisaged that the project will be completed in about fifty years. But, until then, the job consists of staying seated in front of your device, and clicking every match between words and images, or words and sounds, or sounds and images, or colours and emotions, that sort of thing. You can even do it in your head if you agree to have your device implanted. You can do it while walking or under the shower, except it requires - as the clicker explained - complete focus. It seems like a mechanical process, but it demands concentration and speed. You’re endlessly performing a task the mind can do but which discombobulates a robot. And which is nevertheless difficult to conceptualise. The only solution is to multiply the links, click, click, click, until the robot has been supplied with everything we could possibly have thought up until now, everything we could have felt, everything humanity could have experienced.

I’ve recently been lecturing on neural networks and AI, so this rang chillingly true to me, as did the perpetual automated surveillance that could be baffled by using metaphors. Climate change, pollution, ecological collapse, and extreme wealth inequality all form part of the background detail. Prior to her life in the forest, Marie inhabited a tiny apartment and worked long hours, with visiting her half seemingly her only leisure activity. Despite this , she is never self-pitying and recounts her story with a certain ironic detachment. With elan, even. She apologises for being sentimental and exhibits a rather grim pragmatism:

I had the operation. I have no memory of it, which is normal, what with all the anesthetics. And they say it’s better not to remember. I can’t say they’re wrong. After treating lots and lots of traumatised cases, with only moderate success in the medium term, I’m convinced in the end that it’s better not to remember. Bad memories are like toxic organ grafts, difficult to uproot; at best they can be fenced off so you can’t go and graze on them. Bad memories = weeds. Best not to have them at all, or to invent good memories for yourself instead, so you can reprogram your brain. So you can plant a new garden.

Although the story is quite simple, Marie's digressive style allows many intriguing questions to be raised. Is ignorance better or worse than unconsciousness of suffering? Should immortality be for sale? When wealth inequality shapes the entire world, does it vanish into the background? What separates human beings from robots? How does life change when all tasks are automated, all life electronically monitored, all persons connected to networks? Yet all these abstractions are grounded in the narrative focus on Marie’s body, scarred by surgery and lacking organs. Seeing the dysfunctional future world from her limited yet incisive perspective, as she attempts to sort through her life before her body shuts down, is quite an experience. I found the halves, ostensibly the focus of the book, perhaps the least interesting part of the book. It builds to a moving conclusion, as Marie seeks to imagine her legacy.

Effective dystopian writing reflects on current anxieties by strategically exaggerating and warping them. Darrieussecq manages this elegantly, addressing a range of preoccupations about bodies, machines, and the search for a meaningful life. ‘Our Life in the Forest’ has a lot to say in just 150 pages.
Profile Image for Holly.
196 reviews65 followers
September 8, 2018
Viviane is a psychotherapist who is writing a journal, which becomes this book. She lives in a future time, much like Orwell’s 1984 in a surveillance-type world in which people have clones, referred to as halves, in order to have organs to replace any of their’s that fail. For those not rich enough to have a full-blown clone, they get a jar of a heart and a couple more organs.

Viviane names her half Marie and visits her regularly in the Rest Centre even though she is “asleep.” It is a strange concept to wrap one’s arms around — an identical double of oneself. Viviane is clearly struggling with the idea of having a clone and becomes obsessed with her. Viviane wonders if it is right to keep these clones asleep and imprisoned.

...Marie was constantly in the back of my mind. Not in the back: she was the permanent screensaver of my thoughts. She was there, dozing in my brain.

Viviane has a patient that she refers to as a clicker. Clickers teach robots mental associations by clicking every match, be it words, images, etc. This clicker loves sleep and just wants to rest at his sessions and rarely speaks. Viviane ends up speaking about herself and the clicker starts to open up.

One day the clicker doesn’t show for his appointment — he has disappeared. It was the first disappearance that Viviane witnessed. She wonders where he has gone and whether it was of his own accord?

Through the course of this story, we learn a lot about Viviane’s world — for example, how halves are taught to stand, walk and speak plus how they act. Robots are commonplace and clicking is one of the “last jobs for the masses” though eventually that too will be done by robots. It is a dystopian world that doesn’t seem so far off in the future. Our Life in the Forest is a fascinating look at a possible version of the future that will keep your attention and give you lots to ponder.
Profile Image for Jan.
789 reviews51 followers
January 23, 2023
It appears to be all about perception. Perception about the position of human beings in a dystopian world. It is peculiar to notice that so much is not present in the story. The regime, the policy, those who have organised this world. They form the absent part of the world in this novel. Those who control the world, that consists of robotic engineering, watching over the population and is a consequence of medical fanatism. People are permanently online and connected by electronic wiring, implants. It’s a world that apparently functions normal. I mean there are no war scenes, there’s no fighting in a military way. On the contrary, ‘the haves’ of the world, who can afford it, have a clone from which they can have a not functioning organ replaced by that of their clone, their ‘half’. How convenient. Don’t physically worry, be happy, live longer. The main character of the novel is a psych; one of her eyes gives her trouble, so she considers/ wants to have a transplant. During the proceedings she gets an insight. Stimulated by some subtle signals she decides to withdraw from the current situation, go offline, and flee into a forest. There she joins like-minded people. She gets an understanding of her deteriorating physical condition. That’s why she is in a hurry to write this report.
On the one hand the journalist-like report feels amateuristic, sometimes a bit staccato with repetitive in-betweens like: where was I, come on, concentrate. But meanwhile the author knows to build some tension and she certainly knows how to make the reader attentive for the agenda behind what’s happening. JM
Profile Image for Kirsty.
2,689 reviews177 followers
June 22, 2018
I have only read one of French author Marie Darrieussecq's novels to date, All the Way, but I found it rather too offbeat and strange for my personal taste, and was not overly enamoured with it. Her newest offering to have been translated into English by Penny Hueston, however, sounded most interesting. Whilst still not a fan by any means of science fiction, I have been reading a few dystopian tomes of late, and thought I would give Our Life in the Forest a go.

Its blurb states that the novel will challenge 'our ideas about the future, about organ-trafficking, about identity, clones, and the place of the individual in a surveillance state.' Le Monde promises that 'the reader will be captivated'; The Observer calls Darrieussecq's talent 'dazzling'; and Liberation writes: '... reducing this book to a dystopian tale is doing it a disservice... A journal from beyond the grave, as time runs out... And a profound novel about loneliness.'

Set 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... 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.' This woman, our narrator, has fled to the forest along with many other people, 'as a form of resistance against the terror in the city.' Their halves live in the forest with them, and have to be taught how to function as humanly as is possible. Only the privileged have halves, too; those who cannot afford the full body clones which can be used for organ replacement and the like, have jars, which are filled with just a few organs. Those who cannot afford the jars have no help or assurance at all.

Whilst introducing her plight, the narrator admonishes herself: 'Time to get a grip. I have to tell this story. I have to try to understand it by laying things out in some sort of order. By rounding up the bits and pieces. Because it's not going well. It's not okay, right now, all that. Not okay at all.' She then goes on to describe her physical body, and the ways in which it has begun to fail her. From the outset, she has an awareness of her own mortality: 'I'm not in good shape. I won't have time to reread this. Or to write a plan. I'll just write it as it comes.' She is, she tells her audience, 'writing in order to understand, and to bear witness - in a notebook, obviously, with a graphite pencil (you can still find them).'

Interestingly, the halves which belong to the characters are the only beings here which are given names. None of the living protagonists, or those whom the narrator briefly comes into contact with, are really identifiable from the mass. Using this technique, Darrieussecq ensures that her novel is at once anonymous and intimate. It feels almost as though the crisis which she has created has befallen everyone, without exception. Indeed, the narrator assumes that we know parts of her story, and have an understanding of the changed world which she lives in, already.

The world building in Our Life in the Forest is effective in many ways, but there are certainly a few elements which could have done with more explanation. To me, a relative newcomer to the dystopian genre, I found some elements to be far more interesting than others. Our Life in the Forest has been quite intricately crafted, and a lot of thought has clearly gone into the plausibility of scenes and settings. However, there is an emotionless quality to it, which in turn creates a kind of detachment. I found my reading experience to be interesting enough, but to me, the novel was not wholly satisfying.
Profile Image for Becca.
30 reviews
July 19, 2018
Our Life in The Forest
3/5 Stars

The book cover is fantastic. At first glance it doesn’t look like much, isn’t very eye-catching, but knowing the story and eyeing those different body parts, the tone and pace of the story, it seems a perfect fit.
I find the writing style quite interesting, and yet quite difficult to settle into at the same time. It’s stream of consciousness writing, which while a bit jarring, is very apt for the psychiatrist. The story is meandering, my sister says my niece ‘goes all around the houses to get to the point’, and I feel that here more than ever. In this case, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing and you learn early on that there is a very good reason for this. It annoyed me at first that things central to the world, the story, were dismissed as “You know what I mean”, while things every reader knows was explained. “Freud was a psychiatrist around 1900… Beethoven a nineteenth-century composer” etc. Again, it makes sense. The story is written as a diary to present and future readers, long after our time. Yet, the small sliver of details slip in between the lines, the details that slowly, slowly, become a whole and give us an idea of the world.
I understand all the reasons for the way it’s written, and I think it’s a wonderful idea – I just, personally, didn’t care for it. However, just because a book isn’t to my personal liking, doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, and so I won’t withhold any recommendations. I recognise why I’m not keen, and that many others might fall in love with it for the same reasons. Instead, I urge you to give it a try, persevere, and if it hasn’t captured your imagination by around 30-40%, it’s not likely to.
Profile Image for Lars.
21 reviews17 followers
May 28, 2019
Dieses Buch hat mich geärgert, maßlos geärgert. 1 … höchstens 2 Sterne sollte es bekommen. Hat es nun aber nicht. Ich will rasch erklären, warum (und dabei anmerken, dass 3 Sterne für mich ein gutes Buch ist) …

Gekauft hatte ich mir Unser Leben in den Wäldern, damit es als Überbrückung für eine Zugfahrt dient. Ich bin auch nicht ganz unvoreingenommen an das Buch herangegangen, es wurde aus durchaus berufenem Munde vielleicht nicht empfohlen, aber durchaus positiv bedacht. Ob ich es denn auf meiner Zugfahrt schaffen würde, fragte ich. Na klar. Ist ja nur dünn. 100 Seiten. Das liest sich in 2 Stunden. Meine Zugfahrt sollte 4 dauern.

Ich war an dem Tag elendig früh aufgestanden und abends, irgendwann deutlich nach neun ging es dann endlich los; mit dem Zug in Richtung Heimat. Das Buch aufgeschlagen … und plötzlich zog es sich. Und zog sich. Zog sich. Irgendwann fielen mir gar die Augen zu. Aber ich wollte mich tapfer halten. Und das mit einer Protagonistin, die einem halbgare Sätze hinrotzt; Sätze, die man nicht sezieren und nicht verdauen kann, weil die Umstände von der Erzählerin einfach als bekannt vorausgesetzt werden. Weil keine Zusammenhänge geschildert werden. Sätze, die einfach falsch sind. Wo ich mich schon maßlos echauffiert habe, ob die Autorin sich über ihr künstlerisches Vermögen freut, weil sie ihre Figur platte oder sperrig-unzugängliche Sätze niederschreiben lässt. Dinge wie: "Marie ist, wie gesagt, sogar etwas größer als ich. Länger irgendwie: weil sie so lange langgelegen hat."

Und auch konzeptionell war das doch alles halbgar. Viviane, die Protagonistin, lässt mich unmittelbar wissen, dass sie sich beeilen muss, nicht mehr viel Zeit hat. Aber dann lautet (gefühlt) jeder zweite Satz: "Wo war ich?" Herrje, schau Dir halt Deinen letzten Satz an, Du hast ihn ja aufgeschrieben und nicht erzählt, will ich ihr zubrüllen. Also kannst Du nachsehen, wo Du warst. Das ist sicherlich weniger aufwendig, als mich ständig mit einer Frage zu nerven, der ich doch nicht antworten kann!
Über Deine Welt erklärst Du mir quasi nichts … aber was die Sixtinische Kapelle war, wer Beethoven, das schreibst Du mir freundlicherweise dazu. So viel Energie ist noch da. Wieso kannst Du Dir überhaupt einen Klon leisten? Die sind doch so teuer?! Und dann Deine ewigen Assoziationsketten …
Irgendwie hatte Kazuo Ishiguro das in Alles, was wir geben mussten doch schon beschrieben. Auch Klone. Auch erzählt von einer Betreuerin, die am Ende eines Abschnitts zurückschaut. Irgendwie viel geschmeidiger und souveräner, diesen Gedanken konnte ich nicht verbannen. So kam es: Statt nach 2 Stunden Buch zu beenden war nach 4 Stunden die Fahrt vorbei, und ich hatte mich gerade mal bis zur Hälfte vorgekämpft, resümierend, wie dünn das doch alles ist. Das Buch wurde zur Seite gelegt und erstmal für 5 Tage nicht mehr angefasst.

Als ich mich dann zum Weiterlesen durchringen konnte, musste ich zugeben, dass das viel flüssiger ging, als ich das in Erinnerung hatte. Und plötzlich, keine 10 Seiten später, ein WTF-Moment, der mich wirklich schlucken ließ. Ich gebe zu, von dem Moment an habe ich das Buch mit anderen Augen gelesen. Und auch relativ fix beendet.

Noch bin ich unschlüssig, ob die erste Hälfte einfach mau war und der Text sich plötzlich erhebt, wie der Phoenix aus der Asche, oder ob Müdigkeit und der krampfhafte Wille, sich durch den etwas störrischen Text zu jagen, möglicherweise eine nicht ganz ideale Kombination ergaben. Um das herauszufinden, lese ich das Buch nochmal. Jetzt gleich … es bleibt nicht mehr viel Zeit!
Profile Image for Text Publishing.
595 reviews221 followers
August 31, 2018
‘Darrieussecq’s writing brings the story to life vividly in your mind.’
Good Reading

‘Our Life in the Forest is a psychologically astute novel, with a few well-executed twists that will no doubt please fans of the genre.’
Saturday Paper
Profile Image for Jena Henry.
Author 3 books328 followers
July 24, 2018
In the near future, a woman huddles and grows colder. She is writing her thoughts in a notebook. Author Marie Darrieussecg has created a spellbinding tale from the woman’s internal thoughts.

This dystopian tale is told in the first person and unlike most sci-fi fantasy, it is not an action thriller. Instead, it will haunt you as the horror slowly grows.

The narrator Viviane, is a psychotherapist and she has a lived a typical life for the times. She has an electrical unit in her head, and two other body implants like everyone else. Her every movement is recorded and categorized. Yet, her thoughts seem to be her own. And she shares her thoughts with us through a stream of consciousness style of writing.

She is an educated person; she is able to remember quotes from the previous centuries (18th- 20th). She can also be wry, like when she explains to a patient who is trying to visualize, that a safe place is a familiar place, not a screensaver.

Viviane tells us that much of her life has been consumed with caring and thinking about her “half.” At first, we don’t know what a “half” is, until gradually the body part project is revealed.

By the end of the book, the Viviane concludes that, “It requires a radical change of thinking really, to no longer see yourself at the center of things…”

The author is a good storyteller. One of my favorite passages in this book was about the army of terra cotta soldiers in China. I wish there had been even more to the book. I am glad I read this book and I recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for an ARC.
Profile Image for Alexis.
201 reviews48 followers
May 12, 2019
Set some time in the future where people have "halves" they use to extract organs for transplant into themselves, this story is told by one woman who is writing her life story. She now lives in a forest with a group of other people, and she looks back on how she got there and what happened to her before that point.

This was a really odd book to me. It was relatively short, and the narrative was winding and full of tangents, so it was quite hard to follow. I think this was intentional, as the narrator was not exactly compos mentis, but I found it quite distracting and I had to think carefully to decipher what was going on at times.

I would actually put this book alongside old-school sci-fi books by those such as Fritz Leiber or Kurt Vonnegut - to me anyway - who had really crazy and brilliant ideas, but their way of writing is sometimes almost cryptic and definitely intellectual. The idea for this book was really fantastic and ingenious, but the reading of it did take concentration, and there were still a lot of things which were unclear, questions left unanswered.

Although I have suggested this book belongs among the greats of sci-fi, actually it reminds me of them but falls somewhat short. I was expecting a lot from this book, and found myself to be slightly confused and disappointed by the end. I just didn't connect with it fully and in the end I just wasn't satisfied.
Profile Image for Anna Baillie-Karas.
420 reviews47 followers
August 15, 2019
I loved this. A dystopian tale set in the near-future. The narrator has a clone, or ‘half’ who has lived in a coma & supplied spare body parts when needed - a group & their ‘halves’ are in the forest. Eery, with aspects of Handmaids Tale & Animal Farm, & mystery of why they’re there & the sinister society they’ve escaped.

She writes with a great sense of humour and a disarming, frank tone which I really enjoyed. Beautifully paced, with a twist near the end.

Much is unsaid and she lets you read between the lines, but I felt intrigued and challenged without being confused. I’m not sure how she achieves this / I think it’s partly that you trust the narrator, and also that you don’t need all the detail - it’s enough to imagine a future where people are less healthy and robots do many of our jobs, combined with a dictatorship (or the like).

Also makes you think about AI and our relationship with our bodies (a theme explored in Frankissstein which I read recently).

A great choice for Women in Translation Month. :)
Profile Image for Blanche.
211 reviews77 followers
June 23, 2017
Je ne sais pas quoi dire sans spoiler le livre, donc je vais me contenter d'indiquer un ressenti de lecture, aussi fugace soit-il. J'ai dévoré ce livre, j'ai trouvé que l'histoire/l'intrigue était amenée d'une manière extrêmement intelligente. C'est un livre que l'on commence sans savoir à quoi s'attendre, et je ne suis même pas sûre que le but soit de comprendre tout ce qui s'y passe. Ça nous parle de l'Homme, de sa peur de la mort, de sa peur de vieillir. Ça parle également d'une quête de la liberté, d'une volonté d'autonomie, d'indépendance.

C'est beau, bien écrit, et captivant.
Profile Image for Nicky Reed.
53 reviews
June 12, 2021
Ooh, I enjoyed this. A thoroughly engaging dystopia, an engaging narrator, engaging narrative. A convincing near-future world which exhibits and explores many of the issues we are concerned with here and now. As with many of the best dystopias hope comes, perhaps, from the fact that there is a community of resistance.
An engaging read and the author shows a keen ear for the potential for humour.
Darrieussecq ably constructs her world here. Ultimately, ultimately, I'm not sure what she did with it, but I was glad enough to be along for the ride.
Profile Image for Maud Lemieux.
116 reviews37 followers
October 6, 2017
Un récit déstabilisant, dans l'écriture de l'urgence, dans un univers pas si incrédule que je l'aurais cru. Darrieussecq se renouvelle à chaque roman et c'est franchement impressionnant.
Profile Image for Ying.
320 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2018
Told from the a journal-like point of view, this book explores the past life of the main character Vivianne, and her cloned "half", Marie.

Vivianne tells us (through her journal like writing) about how she ended up living in this forest, and how she struggles with her fascination with her half.

I really liked the concept. One of my favourite sci-fi topics to explore are clones used for organ donation of the "real" individual, such a fun idea. This book does it way better than the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. If you liked that back you'll like this one.

Also, the ending of the book was really great.
Profile Image for Dasha M.
241 reviews10 followers
December 13, 2018
I loved this. I loved this so much. It's disturbing, it's strange, it leaves me questioning.
Profile Image for Agnese.
142 reviews117 followers
March 8, 2019
I can't really enlarge upon our life in the forest. It's a matter of security. 

Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq, translated from the French by Penny Hueston, is a science fiction novel that's been compared to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Set in a near future surveillance state with advanced robot technology and human clones (called "halves") that are kept in a comatose state in specialized medical centres and harvested for organs, Our life in the Forest follows a woman, who is living with a group of people in a forest as a form of protest against the unethical practices of this future society. Over the course of the book, we learn what were the circumstances that motivated her to abandon her city life and settle in the forest. The book is written in the form of an intimate confession by the protagonist as a way for her to explain her decisions and keep her story alive for future generations.

Before her life in the forest, she was working as a psychologist and treating patients who had experienced some kind of trauma. One of her regulars was patient zero, the so-called "clicker", who visits her to complain about the constant tedium of his dead-end job, which is to teach robots mental associations in order to make them appear more human so that they could eventually replace humans in the jobs that require empathy.

You're endlessly performing a task the mind can do but which discombobulates a robot. And which is nevertheless difficult to conceptualise. The only solution is to multiply the links, click, click, click, until the robot has been supplied with everything we could possibly have thought up until now, everything we could have felt, everything humanity could have experienced. 

Blue = sky = melancholy = music = bruising = blue blood = nobility = beheading.

We soon learn that, outside of her job, the narrator spends most of her free time visiting her clone, named Marie, who is kept in one of the vast medical centres. Despite the fact that the narrator has already received several transplants and is in need of more due to her declining health, she begins to feel repelled by the idea of harvesting Marie's organs.

It's difficult to talk about this book without giving too much away since the themes of the novel are closely linked to some of the major plot points. All I will say is that the book explores identity and the ethical questions concerning organ-harvesting. In this near-future scenario, the wealthiest people are able to significantly prolong their lives and their youth by replacing any of their organs with those of their "halves", while the less rich only have jars with the most vital organs, and those, who can't afford even the jars, receive no help at all, so one of the major topics of this book is how this kind of medical advancement might affect people from different socio-economic positions in society.

While the science fiction concept itself might not be that new, Out Life in the Forest felt like a well-crafted story with a clear message that challenges us to think about how such potential technological and medical advancements might affect the future.

Review first published on my blog: https://beyondepilogue.wordpress.com/...
Profile Image for Cheyanne Lepka.
Author 1 book11 followers
July 30, 2018
Written in a wonderfully conversational style, this reflective dystopian book examines what it means to be human, and shows a terrifying future in which those who are fortunate enough, are born with a half. A half is the ultimate life insurance policy, a clone from which you can get whatever transplants you need. Others in this world only have jars (a heart and lungs to transplant) and some have nothing at all.

This book is haunting in a number of ways, first off is the realistic way in which it shows a future where it is common to get sick, so common that we require ‘spare parts’, but it also offers insight into the nature of loneliness and what it means to be human. Especially what that means in a surveillance state.

The style in which this story is told is very limited, and yet extraordinarily effective. Viviane/Marie’s voice is captivating, and its almost as if she’s speaking directly to the reader. The entirety of the world is filtered through her point of view and it leads for a fantastic reveal. The layers of the world, while shown through the at times naive perspective of Viviane/Marie is reflective of how it’s possible to completely miss something so wrong. As far as unreliable narrator’s go, I think her voice is one that sticks in my mind as one of the strongest I’ve read in a long time.

While I didn’t see the twist at the end coming, upon reflection there were clear hints towards it, and I think I would enjoy rereading the book, if only to look for the breadcrumbs that the author left.

I highly recommend this book, it’s a short read that will undoubtedly leave you thinking for days.
Profile Image for Chronicroqueusedelivres.
201 reviews11 followers
August 11, 2017
Une femme écrit au fond d’une forêt. Son corps et le monde partent en morceaux. Avant, elle était psychologue. Elle se souvient qu’elle rendait visite à une femme qui lui ressemblait trait pour trait, et qu’elle tentait de soigner un homme dans un monde où beaucoup de gens ont un double, un clone pour leur servir en cas de besoins médicaux.

J’ai lu ce livre dans le cadre du Grand Prix des Lectrices Elle et j’ai trouvé que cette histoire est vraiment particulière et fait sacrément réfléchir aux progrès que l’on peut faire et aux questions d’éthique quant aux usages de nos grandes découvertes scientifiques et médicales. Je ne suis pas rentrée tout de suite dans cette histoire, j’ai mis un peu de temps, j’ai appris à connaître la protagoniste et je n’ai pas compris tout de suite où elle voulait en venir, où elle m’emmenait. On la découvre au travers de son histoire personnelle, son besoin de connaître son double, cette personne qui n’en est pas une qui git sur un lit d’hôpital et qui n’est qu’une réserve d’organes ; on la découvre en parallèle à travers son métier et en particulier son suivi d’un patient. Puis, les choses se sont liées, mises en place et je me suis posée beaucoup de questions et ai finalement lu la deuxième moitié du livre d’une traite.
Pour mon avis complet et sans spoiler, c'est ici: https://chronicroqueusedelivres.wordp...
6,290 reviews68 followers
July 16, 2018
This is one of those rare books where I'm really glad I stuck with it (mostly because if I don't stick with it, I never find out how brilliant it gets, but you get the gist). It seemed a mish-mash of concept and little plot for far too long, and it more than seems to be a mish-mash at times, with a very errant approach, only partly justified by the narrator. I'll not deign to say any of the plot, or the ideas behind things, but I will say that everything you come to these pages not knowing anything about does eventually become clear, that there is an actual arc to the story in amongst the weaving-about, and that at the end you do feel grateful to the author for her ideas. She never really makes it easy for us, but it's up to us to have the patience necessary. File next to Tarantula/The Skin I Live In by Thierry Jonquet.
Profile Image for Nick Crawford.
26 reviews7 followers
August 9, 2021
Superb, and a very fast read. The story has the lived-in dystopic experience without being too focused on world building itself. There's much more experience and dread to the telling and the difficulty of living in a world that has parasited away your living.

The weight of the very end is what I really walk away with. Really, the book amounts to much ado about nothing and then...the end. And that feels very right. You kind of have this strained sort of living all throughout the winding telling, but it all drives down to a very impactful end that's lived through and basically timeless. Neat.
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
729 reviews114 followers
November 2, 2019
Superb, dark, punchy dystopian SF. Ishiguro meets the decent bits of Humans meets Flowers for Algernon (sort of).

Splendidly plotted and a fine application of the unreliable first person narrator with the limited language and worldview (I loved the idea of 'pigeons a la plage'). Lots of smart, dark concepts in here - the most fascinating, for me, still being the idea of the 'cliqueur' (which is frankly happening before our very eyes. Thank you, Google).

Straight to Netflix it goes, surely. Excellent work.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 88 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.