Broke and bodiless

At Dymocks in Collins St someone had left a stray novel amongst those listed for the much-publicised Stella Prize for women’s writing.

The novel has just been released and possibly missed the deadline for the prize. Otherwise, it might have qualified, for the author is an Australian woman, although looks can be deceptive.

An Uncertain Grace explores gender definitions. The driving intelligence is a woman who makes up stories to deal with those exploited. In one story, a 130-year-old narrator inhabits the body of a young prostitute to find love. In another, a robot boy is used to cure pedophiles.

Krissy Kneen writes sexually explicit stories that view gender as a continuum, more influenced by identity than biology, which can be manipulated by a range of medical procedures and technologies.

Could the Stella Prize therefore be won by a man? Quite possibly, if this novel’s premise is accepted. Transition from one gender to another is becoming an increasingly popular and compelling way of finding a community of like-minded people.

Text Publishing is known for its provocative titles. The William St publishing house has released several French novels that deal with predatory males who make light of their appetites by the use of clever arguments.

Kneen, to her credit, manages to find humour in the highly-politicised arena of sexual difference by reversing the typical seduction scenario.

The 130-year-old woman who is the intelligence behind this speculative novel is still chasing sexual pleasure even after she has died and is prepared to pay for it.

Liv’s brain is being kept alive because of its storytelling skills and is still earning her money, enabling her to transfer funds to the prostitute from her bank account using a chip.

In exchange for the online transfer, Liv is allowed to direct the prostitute by mental telepathy. They go together to a bar where the young woman’s physical beauty soon attracts admirers.

But when Liv falls in love with a young male, the prostitute claims their time is up, forcing the intelligence from beyond the grave to pay double the money for an extra hour.

Eventually Liv finds another young female body to inhabit and comes clean to her beau Anthony about her subterfuge. Anthony admits that he has fallen in love with the voice inside the body for its powers of visualisation.

Kneen is pushing readers into an imagined place that feels more comfortable than the more hackneyed one in her set-up, in which a male creative writing professor seduces his young female student.

The novel, like the previous works published by Text, is aimed at writers as well as readers. Kneen manages to play with omniscience while remaining faithful to first person present tense.

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