[So I finished Mockingjay and still got things done. Really it isn’t too lengthy, and Collins writes a compelling story. Further comments will come sooner than later I hope.]
Today I want to highly recommend to most all readers (and readers of omphaloskepsis, of course) to read Caragh O’Brien’s Birthmarked. I suppose I should give you reasons more than “you just should” and I started to write quite the lengthy post on it after I read it a couple of weeks ago. So it turns out I can still go on a bit lengthy–as usual.
<below is not what I wrote in my word document at all…not that the word document guarantees third-draft-editing.>
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien
Roaring Book Press, 2010
Birthmarked could be categorized thus: Science-Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic Landscape, Dystopian Society. And if you read similarly, you might enjoy the read. I say might because apparently some who follow Dystopian fiction disliked the experience, and went on to compare to other Dystopian works–though strangely, there was a unexpected absence of comparing it to Dystopian Genre markers that consider a book categorized after stating it was not properly Dystopian. Was it as good as some we’ve all been asked to read in High School or University? Yes.
Birthmarked is well-written. It is well thought out. And though you most probably will find it in the Teen Section, it is not to be left there. Yes, it has a sigh-worthy male character who would be a wonderful counterpart to our heroine but the protagonist and author do not lose focus. Birthmarked is perfectly Dystopic in that it considers and challenges ideas of entitlement and oppression.
What I like more than the Dystopic aspects of the story/setting of O’Brien’s novel is the Post-Apocalyptic. How do humans survive after the near-destruction of Earth and/or Nature? Better yet, how does humanity survive?
First, Human survival: Plenty of Sci-Fi scenerios will throw ambiguous or overwhelming (belabored) technical language at the reader to explain the procreative capabilities and success of the humans re-populating this now foreign and hostile landscape. O’Brien is effortless in depicting the circumstances through nicely paced action and dialogue.
Humanity’s survival: This is where the use of a failed-Utopia comes in to play. This is where “moral” judgment comes into conflict with survival. In a time when one would think every human life is valued, there are other things to consider: resources, genetics, societal stability. Strangely, and beautifully, O’Brien casts these considerations into the shade–which is surely upsetting to plenty. It is not that she ignores the arguments, they are woven in and discussed, even contemplated, but the focus is held by the protagonist, Gaia, who appears to believe that humans are capable of accommodating more in the way of perspective.
O’Brien writes a Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction novel with the oddest idea in mind. Where does family come into play? With the necessity for a healthy reproduction of the species, resources to support the population, a balanced and civilized (aka compliant) society, where does the idea of Family come into play? Do familial ties/loyalty come into play on the side of Rationality or no?
The playing out of loyalty to Family or to State is not new, but the O’Brien’s Setting is unusual for it. (Or perhaps I need to read more.) I don’t believe the idea of Family Units collapse in the face of human extinction, but they tend to be redefined or reconfigured. The Family in Birthmarked is perhaps the most simplistic. Sire, Birth-Mother, and off-spring; full-blooded relations. Then there are grandparents and cousins, etc. (This definition of Family is where O’Brien begins, but this does not mean she stays there.–or does she?)
Is there more to being related by blood than mere genealogical record? How does the desire for blood relation come into conflict with a Society focused on physical survival?
Perpetuation of the species may be found in the understanding of genetics, but the perpetuation of humanity is found in the understanding of what it is to have/be a part of a family.
O’Brien can explore ideas without rambling or becoming pre-occupied with her own brilliance in illustrating an imagined landscape. The story is tightly woven; even when it seems that Gaia (the protagonist) is skittering off into a dream or memory for a chapter.
Those Marked with a Code will Determine the Future.
One Marked with a Scar will Unravel the Past.
The cover text suggests more mysticism than the book could account for: other than for intrigue, I couldn’t place it…unless this is the first book in a series. Yes, Sean, I know I said I wouldn’t mind if it were, just after I read it, but I’m not so sure now. Mark me down as undecided (and as ever, conflicted). Perhaps if handled like Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Gathering Blue, and The Messenger? Intersecting characters through individual stories set in a same world. [Birthmarked is strongly reminiscent of a combined read of The Giver and Gathering Blue; but most especially the latter.]
Gaia [the earth goddess] is a lovely character: not too irrational as to undermine her position as the story’s guide, and not too obtuse as to overly annoy. I like that her reluctance as hero never quiet leaves her. And I think Gaia was a perfect choice for her name and her role as a mid-wife, especially in contrast with the Enclave and the Protectorat and his council. –a lovely short essay there. Considering as much as there is to this book, enough characters are lifted from type-cast. Gaia isn’t the only wonderful individual on the page. I think a longer work would keep all from being perceived as flat–though characterization is not a fault I find with this novel.
Really, there no faults–none that should keep a reader from enjoying Birthmarked. There is action and drama and romance and creepiness–yeah, good old darkness behind the shiny facade–except for Gaia (who as scarred would not be considered “shiny” to begin with). I cried, I laughed, I sighed, and I contemplated…and I annoyed the husband with updates on the story’s events… I had a lovely experience with this read.
This is where I thank Steph Su for reviewing & recommending the read (actually, I felt so grateful that I emailed her a “thank you”). Here is the link to her review.