Book Review: Life, by Gwyneth Jones

Aqueduct Press
368 pp.

Life is a long ramble of a novel in which not a lot takes place except a lot of relationship drama. There are also a great many examples of covert and overt sexism which the focus character tries very hard not to notice. It takes place in the near future and among other things, involves social justice, genetic engineering, commercial science and a mysterious possible genetic shift that may or may not have far-reaching consequences.

The book mostly follows the life of two women.

Anna is a geneticist who ends up working for a company specializing in infertility because of a long convoluted disaster involving a fellow student who steals her work. Anna does not like to make waves, even if she ends up doing so by accident. She spends a great deal of the novel encountering sexism and condescension from male supervisors and coworkers. She has a mild obsession with a genetic anomaly referred to as “Transferred Y” and is thrust into the spotlight for a brief and extremely unpleasant period of time.

Ramone is completely indescribable. She gets into complicated and dangerous situations that other characters have to get her out of, though I really can’t figure out why they would bother since the rescuers are often people she has done vicious things to in the past. She is hostile and violent with a tendency to attack people. She seems to have some very convoluted ideas about social justice and often declares that she hates feminists and women. The narrative refers to her as “the rabid one,” and it’s pretty clear there is something very wrong with her.

I was not very fond of the book. Like most of Gwyneth Jones’ work, it’s very readable, but I could not get into any of the character’s heads. Anna lets men push her around and undermine her at every turn. Ramone is the opposite, in that she attacks everyone. Their relationship is as strange and convoluted as the book in that it starts out as a friendship and becomes a sort of horribly dysfunctional mess as time goes on. (I kind of like Anna more than I like Ramone though.)

This book is possibly my least favorite by this author. The story doesn’t go anywhere and one part in particular got on my nerves. There is a point where Anna wonders if the reason why she doesn’t understand some kinds of interactions might be because she is on the autistic spectrum. She then decides that no, of course she couldn’t be autistic, because only men were autistic. My feeling is that Anna could have gotten away with thinking that only if the book had been set in the 1940s, but it completely snapped my suspension of disbelief because this book is set in the near future, and had been published in 2004. (In other words, Anna is not ignorant enough to think something like that, or shouldn’t be, and I can’t tell if this is authorial ignorance of something easily researched or if it’s legitimately somehow character ignorance.)

While I did not like the book, it managed to be readable and more or less engaging. Some of the side characters are interesting and there are a few moments of humor. If you’re a fan of Gwyneth Jone’s writing, it’s worth taking a look at. If you have a strong aversion to extreme examples of sexism and discrimination, this is probably not the book for you.

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Filed under book, drama, gender wars, Gwyneth Jones, near future, Review: Book, science fiction

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