Fauna (Donna Mazza) – book review

In the near future, a child is created using the DNA of three parents; mother Stacey, father Isaac, and a long deceased ancestor of mankind.  This child will not be able to hold a passport, live a normal life, or even be issued with a birth certificate.  She is Fauna.

Stacey and Isaac, a young Western Australian couple, prepare to embark upon the perilous journey into parenthood for the fourth time. They have agreed to partner up with LifeBlood, a clinical research company that offers financial incentives for parents to create and nurture a genetically modified child.  Gene spliced with another species, the eventual children of these births will be forever monitored by LifeBlood, just as their parents will also be as the keepers of such living assets.

The invasive methods use to track the pregnancy, and after the birth, Asta’s developmental progress, are largely burdens borne by Stacey.  It is Stacey’s life that incrementally becomes smaller every day, with the erosion of what she once was being apparently invisible to everyone else.  Asta looks different, sounds different, walks different.  Even taking Asta out the door is a massive exercise, lest someone notice these differences and wish to challenge Stacey as to what is ‘wrong’ with her youngest child.

Fauna increasingly reminds the reader of the work ‘Never Let me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro as the novel progresses.  There is increasing reason to be alarmed and suspicious that Asta’s fate is to be harvested for spare parts, eventually fully sacrificed on the altar of scientific research. Truly the only person standing in the way of this awful fate is her long-suffering mother.  The unfairness of this is not bludgeoned in Fauna, but the sacrifices the exhausted mother makes every day are absolutely heartbreaking to hear.  Stacey’s very essence of being a functioning human being in the world is taken from her and there is no one in her world who truly understands the extent of it.

It is difficult to find someone to root for in this novel, at least amongst the adults.  Perhaps this is deliberate, so we focus on the innocent Asta who didn’t ask to born to two naive parents who were struggling to provide for the two perfectly healthy kids they already had.  Hmm.  Stacey and Isaac had previously experienced a miscarriage, and the couple are assured that this fourth child will be born stronger because of her altered genetic makeup.  Still with the hmm.

Fauna was an extraordinarily moving story to listen to as an audio book.  The longing and the fear of a mother who is essentially abandoned to make the hard decisions is beautifully realized by Sydney actor Harriet Gordon Anderson.  This is one of those times where I believe the author’s intent was fully understood and given appropriate life by the audio narrator.

This dreamy novel of maternal love and erosion of self is set in an altered future that is scant on the details as to the why, yet vividly described for landscape and isolation.  Fauna strips existence down to the two essentials, a mother and the love she has for her child.  That the two will be separated is a dreadful certainty.

Fauna leaves a lot left unsaid, not for reasons of an eventual sequel I am sure but because the unspoken horrors, the almost unimaginable horrors, are those that humans are willing to inflict upon other humans.

Australian author Donna Mazza is an award-winning author of poetry, short fiction and novels.

Fauna is published by Allen and Unwin.  The audio book that this review refers to is available via Audible, and also via your local library on RB Digital.

Andy Thompson

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