Plagued by the creeping loss of her memory, diplomat Bréone Hemmerli continues to negotiate peace in an increasingly climate-devastated world, ensconced in the UN-owned estate Irislands alongside her longtime friend and companion Delphine.
The appearance of the alien Tura in the shadows of Bréone’s garden raises new questions about the world’s decline. Perhaps, together, Tura and Bréone will find a way forward… if only Bréone can remember it.
This was a bit of a tricky one to wrap my head around. It feels almost like a long short story rather than a novella. I’m not sure how to really explain that difference, but it’s certainly not a negative. Part of what made it so challenging for me was the absence – not lack – of much background for the main character. That’s by design. Bréone is losing her memories. We never learn what her diagnosis is, but it sounds untreatable and irreversible. Because of that, it’s hard to tell what is truth and what is a false memory her deteriorating mind created out of the scraps. And there are enough gaps in her memory that she couldn’t explain things even if she tried.
On the surface, this is a climate fiction dystopian novella. It’s a century into the future. Species are dying off or are long since extinct. The UK is crumbling under authoritarian rule and possibly an alien invasion. In an isolated estate owned by the UN, two French women live next door to each other in privilege and protection. Bréone and Delphine have known each other for decades and raised their children together, but now Bréone can barely remember those years of closeness or which children are hers. That’s when she meets the alien living in her back garden.
E. Catherine Tobler’s writing style here is lyrical and lovely. We don’t often get speculative fiction with an elderly main character, especially one who is an elderly woman but not a badass warrior or retired rebel. Bréone is just a person with faults and regrets and fading memories. Just a wonderful novella all around.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.
Buy it at bookshop.org (affiliate link).