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Book Reviews for Writers: The Jigsaw Woman by Kim Antieau

Welcome to the 9th review in Reviews for Writers, where books are viewed with an eye towards craft. This week, I’ll be taking a look at The Jigsaw Woman by Kim Antieau – a fascinating book that successfully constructs a multi-layered thematic web within a complex multi-element plotline that weaves multiple characters, timelines, and events together into a satisfying conclusion. This is a novel with no waste in terms of characters, themes, plot elements, or subplots. Not a single strand of the web the author constructs is left flying in the air; rather, every strand has an essential part to play in the development of the main plot and the conclusion.

Before I go any further, I would like to note that this book contains quite a bit of profanity, violence, and sexual content. The author does not pull any punches—the scenes in question are graphic– but she doesn’t trivialize any of the issues she presents either.

There are those who have criticized the book for the mature content, but I did not have an issue with it, mostly because I felt that the content was suited to the theme and apparent intent of the book. In my opinion, The Jigsaw Woman is intended to be a deliberate criticism of modern patriarchal culture (i.e. religion, power and societal values, and how they have affected women). Given this intent, I thought it was appropriate for the realities constructed in the book to be almost overly harsh. After all, one of the oldest functions of science fiction is to present harsh societal criticism by creating extreme worlds and situations and drawing parallels to current issues.

The Jigsaw Woman is a beautiful and complex novel. In many ways the main character, Keelie, is the oppression, silencing, devaluing, and objectifying of all women placed into a human body. She is the embodiment of all the negative parts of women’s history. All of these things are a part of her when she comes into existence, but she has no knowledge of them, initially. As the story progresses, Kellie has to learn of each negative aspect, acknowledge that it has affected her, and defeat/overcome it psychically, emotionally, and/or physically. Her journey is allegorical to both the general female experience in history, and the journey to self-actualization of many modern women. In my opinion, that is science fiction at its (old-school) finest! Hopefully, you will see what I mean, and draw your own conclusions, when you read the summary below.

 

SPOILER ridden summary:   

Keelie awakes, fully grown, on an operating table. She has no memories, no concept of her existence. She learns that she is literally a    “jigsaw woman.” Rather like Frankenstein’s monster, she is a collection of sewn-together parts gathered from the dead bodies of three women: Anna (her head), Belle (her torso), and Lee (her legs).  At first, Keelie is completely innocent and painfully naïve, like a child directly out of the womb.

Keelie is told that she was made to be the dream wife of the man who funded her creation, Victor. She is baffled by Victor. He seems to like her, but his interactions with her are very tentative, and she rarely sees him. He keeps to himself and leaves her in the care of a psychologist, Hart, and a crazy, deformed woman named Lilith.

As Keelie learns more about herself and her history, she comes to understand that she and Victor are deeply connected. They have loved each other in countless past lives from pre-history through the present (as lovers, family, or friends, depending on the life). In the current time, he has been traumatized and affected by the events that shaped all three of the women who make up Keelie.

Victor is honestly the only male character in the novel that is truly “pure.” The three women he loves: his sister, Lee, and his two best friends, Anna and Belle, are all abused and ultimately killed by the same male figure, who is referred to as “the Father” (Belle is literally murdered, Lee is emotionally and sexually abused until she commits suicide, and Anna is plagued by his demons until she drowns).

After some events that rob Keelie of her initial innocence, she is summoned by the Death aspect of the Great Goddess, and commanded to remember her past lives..

She then begins to remember the past lives of Anna, Belle, and Lee, as well as her own past lives. The three women were, in a way, incomplete souls until they all merged together to form Keelie, who is complete and thus capable of empowering herself in ways none of the women could on their own. Keelie goes on a physical journey in the real world, visiting their families and friends, while trying to find out more about them, as well as a spiritual journey through their memories. Through the lives of the circle of women, the novel illustrates a shift from a nature worshipping, harmonious matri-focal system to the hierarchal, patriarchal system that modern society operates under. It illustrates how a patriarchal religious system literally stamped out goddess worshiping and nature worshiping.

Throughout time, Keelie and her circle of friends, along with Victor (her warrior- lover, consort, and Trickster counterpart), are pursued and tormented by the Father, in an endless cycle of abuse and power struggles. Only by remembering, and acknowledging her past(s), can Keelie face the Father and break the cycle, restoring balance between male and female power (a deity with both a male and a female aspect– the male God, reconciled with the Great Goddess).

This book is not for everyone, but I thought it was very interesting in terms of theme, and social criticism and, as far as the craft of writing goes, the plotting is honestly amazing. The way the author managed to weave so many different interconnected lives, events, and time periods together (and make them relevant and coherent contributors to the plot) was remarkable. The author clearly had an agenda, but I find that a positive trait rather than a negative one in this case, since it was presented via a complex, yet coherent plot, and a well-crafted, deliberate, and consistent thematic web. Definitely worth reading at least once!

 

4/5 stars

 

Happy writing and reading until next time!

~Amy

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2 Comments

  1. Arwen Spicer

    This sounds like a fascinating book, though a difficult read. I usually steer clear of books that are about the oppression of women because I feel like “I get enough of that at home,” and I would rather read about world’s in which women are more empowered than in ours. But I might actually read this one. It sounds very well constructed (um, pun?). thanks for the review!

  2. Arwen Spicer

    I finally read this book based on the review, which peaked my interest. My own, very personal “review” is up at my blog: http://labingi.dreamwidth.org/100836.html.

    I was less enthusiastic than you, but looking over your review again, I think one reason might be that, as you rightly note, the novel reads like allegory, and allegory is not a favorite genre of mine.

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