Julie Christine's Reviews > The Book of Joan

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2017, imagined-worlds, read-2017

In August 2015 I participated in a weekend writing workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch, an experience I chronicled here A Weekend with Lidia. At a reading the evening after our first day together, Lidia told the crowd she was working on a novel about Joan of Arc. Lidia + historical fiction didn't compute for me, but I'm willing to follow her anywhere, so I trusted her version of Joan's legend would be something quite apart from cloaks and swords and dastardly priests.

There were hints along the pre-release way that this wasn't another version of Joan set in the 15th century forests of Lancastrian France. Of course not. This is LIDIA. And this book is a core-shaking revolution of words. Tremblingly prescient, for it was written well before we knew what a dumpster fire of a political scene we were walking into, before demagoguery and willful ignorance would bring us to the edge of a precipice we are in desperate danger of plunging over.

In The Book of Joan the world has already plunged. It is 2049 and Earth is all but destroyed—ravaged and gutted by a multiplicity of wars over scarce resources. Those who could afford to fled the scene and created CIEL, a colony orbiting the space above their former planetary home. Corruption abhors a vacuum and into that space steps Jean de Men, a former television cult of personality turned sadistic cult leader, whose greatest achievement was the capture and public assassination of Joan, an Earthbound girlwarrior-ecoterrorist.

The Geocatastrophe that occurred in less than a generation's span forced shocking and irreversible physiological changes in the remaining human beings who live what remains of their existence on CIEL. This new species cannot procreate. But in their desperation to remain viable, they are destroying what little remains of life on earth, by sucking up its resources through Skylines and using children as fossil fuel.

There is little I can share with you about the book's plot without dancing with spoilers. A work of speculative fiction, it begins on CIEL in the same bewildering, bleak tradition as Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, with Christine as the doomed protagonist and her dearest Trinculo as resistor-martyr, but once the action falls to Earth and into Joan's story, it's grounding and full of love and warm muscle and heart and impossible to set aside. But the plot's not the point, anyway. It's what keeps the pages turning, and it's dazzling. Disorienting. Exasperating. Brilliant and wrenching.

As Lidia told us in that workshop nearly two years ago, The story is not about what happens. The story is why it matters. And there is so much here that matters, it's hard to understand how it's contained in 266 pages, by humble paper and ink. Art as resistance. Women as warriors (THE FUTURE IS FEMALE so many of us around the world chanted on January 21, 2017). The crushing power of fertility. The rape of Earth for profit. The blank slate of body, the only thing that truly belongs to us, this vulnerable, dying canvas of muscle and bone and skin, telling the story of the world. Love as the reason to act. Love for earth, for lovers, for children. Love for hope, love for art.

Lidia's prose is visceral and shocking and physical. She writes from the body as much as from the mind and the heart and you feel her words. As a reader I was stunned, horrified, aroused and broken.

Whatever your expectations of this book, lay them aside. Just read and embrace the power of what fiction can do to tell the truth of the world.
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Reading Progress

April 17, 2017 – Shelved
April 17, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 9, 2017 – Started Reading
May 10, 2017 –
page 50
17.36% "I can manage this in small bits. Sensory overload."
May 13, 2017 –
page 115
39.93% "'The song. In my head. It's hers. I remember how. It went into us. I don't know how.
Once, she had a voice.
Now her voice is in my body.'"
May 14, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
May 14, 2017 – Shelved as: imagined-worlds
May 14, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
May 14, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Irene (new) - added it

Irene Allison Fantastic review! This book would never have been on my radar otherwise. Now a chance to discover it. Thank you, Julie!


message 2: by Genie (new) - added it

Genie Frisbee Your review entices me to read, not only this, but your novels as well. thank you for always being so entertainingly informative.


message 3: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Great review! My curiosity is piqued. Another lover of Lidia hated this one, so I must check it out myself. Loved Chronology and Small Backs.


Bevan Terrific review. I must admit I was shocked by this book, just the force of its descriptions. But, I couldn't put it down. And, I admit, I loved the strange parallel universe of Jeanne d'Arc. All in all, one incredible book. Thanks.


Julie Christine Irene wrote: "Fantastic review! This book would never have been on my radar otherwise. Now a chance to discover it. Thank you, Julie!"
Wonderful, Irene. Hold onto your hat- it's quite a ride!


Julie Christine Genie wrote: "Your review entices me to read, not only this, but your novels as well. thank you for always being so entertainingly informative."

Genie, what a gorgeous compliment. Thank you!


Julie Christine Bevan wrote: "Terrific review. I must admit I was shocked by this book, just the force of its descriptions. But, I couldn't put it down. And, I admit, I loved the strange parallel universe of Jeanne d'Arc. All i..."

Oh Bevan, I'm so glad it touched you as well. I struggled in the beginning- it was all so much- but once I settled in, I couldn't let go.


Julie Christine Debbie wrote: "Great review! My curiosity is piqued. Another lover of Lidia hated this one, so I must check it out myself. Loved Chronology and Small Backs."

Oooh, I will have to seek this out. I love dissenting opinions because I always learn something. I can't wait to have your reaction to this. It's, well, you know. Lidia!


Jessica Wonderful review. I too saw such a connection with The Left Hand of Darkness!


message 10: by Julie Christine (last edited May 29, 2017 05:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julie Christine Jessica wrote: "Wonderful review. I too saw such a connection with The Left Hand of Darkness!"

Thank you, Jessica! I can't wait to read your review!


message 11: by George (new)

George Thank you for the cogent review. It tells me why a) it's a worthwhile book and b) it isn't for me.


Julie Christine George wrote: "Thank you for the cogent review. It tells me why a) it's a worthwhile book and b) it isn't for me."

Thank you for the comment, George. One of the reasons I love this place- finding like minds who know what is valuable and of importance to them. This is a tough book to embrace.


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