Disruptive. Grotesque. Hope. Review of Mooncalves by Victoria Hetherington
Mooncalves disrupts your expectations of a ‘novel’ in every sense. This book starts out seemingly realist--if dark--as it follows Erica and Shelagh, two women in a turbulent relationship, neither of whom have any healthy coping mechanisms for existing in our contemporary late-capitalist world or ability to reckon with their previous traumas, only to interrupt this narrative with The Watchers, a young girl and her robotic companion who witness these lives from a not-so-distant future. This intrusion, and the others that follow, create a foreboding atmosphere as the reader realises before Erice, Shelagh, and the others in their timeline, that the terms of their world are on the precipice of change. Necessarily, this changes the reading experience, placing the reader alongside The Watchers, at a future point outside of the main storyline, and risking dulling the emotional impact of the traumas Erica endures. However, as both stories progress and we learn the entwined nature of The Watchers and Erica, the impositions of these exterior chapters instead serve to heighten the emotional stakes by insisting that previous events do have resonance across time.
Erica’s chapters are grotesque in both all-too-familiar and horrific ways. She is groomed as a child by Joseph, a man who maintains control over her entire life and death, and who literally tortures her in multiple instances. From forcing her to eat raw pigeon to performing sexual acts to chaining her in a room, Joseph exerts his total control over Erica. The Watchers interrupt Erica’s suffering and provide a much-needed reprieve from the violence, so that the terror can linger without the violence becoming gratuitous or desensitizing in its overwhelming presence.
With all the fear and torment woven throughout this book--in both the main plot and The Watchers’ worlds--hope should be in short supply. The environment is devastated. Human relationships are altered beyond recognition. And yet, Mooncalves does not give in to nihilism. Logan, a figure spanning both time periods, offers hope in her ability to adapt to outside forces. She never knows what the future will bring, but she never gives up trying to imagine a future, trying to create one, and in this character, we see that hope beyond all reason might just be the way humans imagine themselves out of the eerily real future proposed in this book.