Saturday, February 7, 2009

Elisabeth Vonarburg: In the Mother's Land

To me, it feels really silly to continue reading a book I don't like. Given how many books I have waiting, I don't want to spend any time reading anything just because I have started it.

A few chapters into the novel In the Mother's Land I found that I just was not interested in the story. I got the book from the library just because the author is a guest of honour at the Worldcon, and I was curious about her writing. The story turned out to be told at a very slow pace, and it was a lot about children (well, childreen) trying to figure out where babies come from and what functions boys have at all. Some relationships develop, and there are hints about the world around these kids. I like the idea of discovering the world through the eyes of a young person who does not know anything about it, but there was nothing that made me particularly interested in discovering this particular world.

It's obvious from the beginning that this world has very few boys and men, and this unbalance is of course going to be important. It's expressed in a way I can't help think must work much better in the original French than it does in English: all masculine words are now feminine. You are not an explorer, but an explora. Even words that to me feel neutral (in English) are feminine, if they describe a person or an animal, like the use of "childe" instead of "child", "catte" instead of "cat". This surely makes the gender issue stand out more, but it also slows down the reading for me.

Even "animal wifery" instead of "husbandry". This one does not work for me at all -- doesn't the English language have any word for the female head of a houshold, rather than just a word that means woman? Swedish has at least two: hustru (translated: "the lady of the house" perhaps -- although nowadays it's just a word for wife, in the meaning of a woman a man is married to. Hmm, it's probably etymologically exactly parallel to "husband".) and matmor ("food mother"), should there not be any better word in the word rich English?

After putting the book away for a day or two I decided to read until page 100 before I gave up. Still nothing much has happened, but I know a little bit more about how this future world works. It's a long time since a disaster that changed the earth and introduced lots of mutations. There is the Malady, which kills many children. And there is a sometimes problematic social structure, which nevertheless seems to work fairly well so far. The protagonist, Lisbeï, is now 13, and it looks like she might get some personal problems that might force her out in the world, and she is special in other ways as well that might be important for the future of her society.

But I'm still not caught by the story, or especially interested in any of the hints of conflict. Should I read on, or give up?

I looked at some plot summaries on the web (the one on Wikipedia is short but spoiler rich), and indeed it seems like Lisbeï is going to do big and important things. It might be interesting.

I don't know. I will put the book away for a while, and if I notice that I still think about it I will take it up again later. Maybe I was just not in the right mood for this story now.

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