Our Life in the Forest
Our Life in the Forest is the fifth of French writer Marie Darrieussecq’s books to be published in Australia by Text Publishing. Before this, there were three other novels, and a biography of German Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, the first artist to paint herself naked and pregnant.
With Our Life in the Forest, all of Darrieussecq’s abiding concerns – women’s bodies, motherhood, mortality – are present. A dystopian tale set in the near future, Darrieussecq presents a world filled with drones and “compassionate” robots and technology implants, and where people have clones, called “halves”, who are kept comatose in the Rest Centre, ready for organ harvesting.
Viviane is a young woman who has “disappeared”. Physically depleted, she is hiding in the forest with a troupe of other rebels who are forever on the move, evading the drones that are looking for them. Crouching in a dark tunnel, dug by a group of halves the rebels have sprung from the Rest Centre and woken up, or “verticalized”, Viviane writes a hurried testimonial, knowing that her time is running out.
In a somewhat rambling manner, we hear of Viviane’s first experiences visiting her half in the Centre, her work as a psychologist, and her radicalisation, which is encouraged by her conflicted feelings about “Marie”, the name she gives her half.
Darrieussecq squeezes a lot into this slim novel. She does this by almost entirely eschewing descriptive passages, by giving us no more backstory than absolutely necessary, and keeping dialogue to a minimum. This makes for a claustrophobic narrative that is tightly tethered to the roving thoughts of Viviane in this particular moment, which is appropriate considering the conditions under which she writes it. That said, the first half of the book dedicates many pages to her time as a psychologist, leaving a whole host of questions about life in this near future unanswered and the story oddly suspended for too long.
Of course, clones and implanted software and intelligent robots are so common in dystopian fiction that they are now clichés of the genre, and the world beyond the forest isn’t as compellingly bleak as perhaps it might be. We never fully feel the dread that this kind of vision of the future surely aims to induce. Nevertheless, 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. SH
Text, 192pp, $27.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 25, 2018 as "Marie Darrieussecq, Our Life in the Forest". Subscribe here.