“People can never stand the challenge of another point of view.”
Some books it is okay to judge by the cover. The Many Selves of Katherine North, by Emma Geen is one such book.
Katherine North, (Kit) is a phenomenaut – a person whose consciousness can be transferred into the body of a lab grown animal through a neural interface. During these “jumps” into the body of an animal, Kit lives as the animal would -sleeping, hunting, eating. In short, she is completely immersed in the life of that animal, except for the thin thread that connects her to her original, human self–the voice of her neuroengineer Buckley. Most phenomenauts retire early, but with seven years of jumping under her belt, Kit is a veteran. When the corporation she works for ShenCorp, decides to use her as the poster girl for their new, and controversial venture, with which she is not comfortable, Kit feels increasingly trapped. Soon, she notices things which don’t seem quite right, and asks questions she has never asked before.
The idea of human consciousness inhabiting an animal/artificial body is perhaps not new, but the way Emma Geen writes it, it becomes fresh and original. The best parts of the book are those in which Kit is inhabiting the body of an animal –fox, whale, bat, tiger, elephant, octopus, etc. I was surprised to know that Emma Geen is not a zoologist. The research she has put into writing these animal selves is exhaustive, and the writing is even better. It is prose poetry, when she describes being an animal. For example, this quote:
“Moving as a spider was like syllables that never join in meaningful expression, but the business of a human body is one voice.”
Kit, even though the “special snowflake” of this YA novel, doesn’t come across as privileged. Instead, I came to care for her as a person. She is intelligent and perceptive without being annoying. There is a very real vulnerability to Kit’s character, which makes her a believable character. Her rapport with Buckley is endearing, and later, when she doubts his loyalty, heartbreaking.
There are a couple of things about the novel that I wish were different. It is a bit slow in parts and I found myself wanting to skip passages (but I didn’t because they were nicely written). Also, the way the novel moves between past and present, and Kit’s different “selves” is a bit disorienting. I suspect this is intentional on the part of the author –it is meant to mimic the disorientation of a phenomenaut as she/he “jumps.” However, this confusion makes the reading experience a bit of a chore (not too much though!).
In other ways though, the reading experience is special –like the weird dreams I had around the time of reading this book, for instance.
The Many Selves of Katherine North, is a novel that will stay with me. With its surreal, but grounded imagery, it is a bold experiment in empathy.
FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://www.bloomsbury.com/author/emma-geen/