Fauna by Donna Mazza
Stacey is a suburban mother with two young children, living in Australia in the not-too-distant future. She is newly pregnant with an IVF baby, which we discover is part of a genetic experiment. Her and husband's baby has had embryonic cells "edited" to contain prehistoric DNA. This experiment will give Stacey a child that will be different in ways that are unclear, but it will also bring financial security for her family as well as a longed-for opportunity for motherhood again.
However, it is clear that Stacey is unsettled from the outset of her pregnancy, carrying the grief of an earlier miscarriage and resentment of the unsettled and unconventional childhood her hippy mother provided.
She leaves reading the fine print in the contract to her husband, and seems unhappy with the medical staff overseeing her pregnancy, resenting their interference and management. Her baby's birth confirms that this child is indeed different, and as the baby grows and develops we see what this means for Stacey, her rock-solid, patient and caring husband, Isak, and her two older children, Jake and Emmy. Stacey becomes increasingly absorbed with Asta, the new baby, to the exclusion of all and everyone else. Her fear of others noticing this child's difference affects the whole family when they move from the suburbs to an isolated rural area. However, it is a downward spiral for Stacey as her mothering of this "different" child increasingly isolates her from community but also from her own family.
Australian writer Donna Mazza's second book draws the reader into a vividly real experience with her evocation of Stacey's feelings, thought processes and inner turmoil, and the descriptions of the wild Australian coastline and birdlife. But the situation, and the human relationships are what make this a great book for chewing over with others in a book club.
The narrative, in the first person, means that I found myself being steeped in Stacey's emotional journey through pregnancy and motherhood but also constantly questioning her perspective, and finding my sympathies divided. She seems blind, confused and unbalanced, unable to be rational in her responses, and driven to keep her child from the outside world, the threat of which seems unclear. She sacrifices even relationships with her husband and her other children to this irrational primeval attachment to this one child. Her reactions lead to questions of the nature of motherhood and the responsibilities of parenting. There are also clearly ethical issues behind the genetic technology of the situation, which, even now in 2020, seems a not-so-far-fetched scientific possibility and the novel provides a springboard to consider these.
This novel could be seen as a cautionary tale on the human cost of such genetic experiments. The cover asks "How far would you go to save your daughter?" I would ask "How far does she go? and "Does she save her daughter?" There is much food for thought. Read it and see what you think.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon
Published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99