An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen
Krissy Kneen is, to me, a literary unicorn. She’s bizarre, but remarkable. This book consumed me, and toyed with most of my emotions. Arousal and disgust met with joy and existential, almost tear-inducing sadness.
This novel is split into five parts. While each section has a different protagonist, they are all linked by the presence of a woman named Liv. As Kneen takes us through time and its corresponding technological advancements, Liv is reinvented again and again. In the first section Liv is a young woman, and by the fourth she is 129 years old. In the fifth, she no longer has a body, existing as a digitally-stored consciousness. This novel is worth reading purely for the masterful way in which Kneen develops Liv’s character from a young memoirist to a gender-fluid centenarian.
While I would certainly label this book erotica, Kneen is an unconventional sex writer. In her previous novel, The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine this culminated in an alien ejaculating the contents of his body down a Brisbane alleyway mid-apocalypse. In An Uncertain Grace, sex is darker. We see it through Cam, a child robot designed for sexual encounters with hebephiles. We see it through university lecturer Caspar, who is re-living an affair via a full-body Occulus Rift style digital narrative, from the perspective of the student he seduced. Kneen also ventures into less dubious regions of unexplored sexual territory, detailing an encounter between a young adult undergoing therapy to exist beyond the male/female gender binary, and an elderly Liv, who wants to experience a genderless body before her death.
It is so difficult to pin this novel down. I am tempted to call it ‘speculative erotica’ but I think that sells it short. This novel questions what it will mean to be human when we are able to be more than human – to be plural, genderless, or living the experiences of someone else through a digital narrative. With An Uncertain Grace, Kneen has given us something that is at once intensely affecting, entertaining, and hugely fascinating.