This book will move you, engage you and shock you.
It is the only (vaguely) sci-fi book I have ever really enjoyed. It makes Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” pale into (polemical) comparison.
It SAVAGES, albeit advisedly so, the psychiatrisized mental health system of power, control and insecurity. It also, like the Le Guin, breaks down any false binaries between psychological and physiological, societally constructed, gender (putative) “differences”(the exploration of this occurs in the parallel future struggling-towards-Utopia world Piercey paints, which leads, just at times, to the book’s only longeur: the extreme detail and length of these passages).
The protagonist is Connie/Consuelo. Her trajectory is one of harrowing abuse and (literal) control by psychiatrists; great bravery: an ineffably moving portrayal(I was nearly in tears at the end!).
But Piercey is subtler than this: how much DOES/DOESN’T Connie experience delusions and paranoia and hallucinations; it is,after all, a novel, a fiction(ultimately anyway, even if it derives its source material from reality). Its clever. Its partly a future, SEMI(ie not perfect) quasi-Utopia; so it will lend itself to phantasy prima facie. So, it makes you think about the mystery that is schizophrenia/”schizophrenia”, and its many alleged “types” which still lead to endless debate and abuses of power: “what is reality?” is the primary question we are moved to ask, therefore.
Connie takes on the psychiatric establishment, in a moving paean to the very rare conditions when war is the only choice, in order to carry on surviving. The book also unpicks, better than any dry academic/political analysis, what is wrong with our hierarchical, capitalist, competitive, marginalising society(showing up our current ways of livings’ weaknesses in its parallel world of dialogue, sharing of resources and personal respect-though this is, by no means, presented as a fait accompli; more a future move forward in the right direction).
It operates and (mainly) works on all these levels.
But, ultimately, to me, it is a poignant, moving, heroic account of Connie, who is on the edge of all types of time: hegemonically constructed past and present time; and the Derridean trace into the FUTURE, from our current imaginings of what (towards) Utopia might look like.In the best queer sense, it is also Atemporal, a parable for ALL times, Connie being the heroine.
With Sebald, Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled”, and “Le Grand Meaulnes”, this book enters my pantheon of the greatest prose fiction EVER written