A surreal and knife-deep work of fiction ... Translated by Lara Vergnaud into prose that is both deceptively simple and playfully archaic ... Sorman’s alternative history of female malady offers both a horrific dose of truth and a comforting alternative to the stories sick women have told ourselves since time began.
Sorman uses her protagonist's suffering to critique the medical establishment, with its massive imbalance of power between doctor and patient ... Her detached tone, which Lara Vergnaud makes crisp and stylized, adds to the sense of novel-as-critique: often, Sorman's narrator seems to be speaking in voiceover, as if Ninon were the subject of a documentary. This strategy serves to alienate the reader from Ninon, precisely as Ninon's pain alienates her from her mother and from her peers. Life Sciences is a lonely book — and, for that reason, an effective one. Unsympathetic as Sorman's style may feel, it forces the reader to reckon with what Ninon is going through.
Despite the fantastical framing, the story of Ninon and her 'cursed' ancestors is all too grounded. It’s an often dark tale about women who struggle with health issues that the medical establishment cannot—or does not want to—cure, or even identify. But stories can be changed, and Ninon might just be the woman to do it ... an immersive, harrowing novel about the power of stories to turn a captivating fable into a prophecy.
... comes to us in a beautiful translation by Vergnaud, with an introduction by Catherine Lacey propounding a feminist interpretation, in case you might miss it. The pacing is rather French—i.e., slow—but the ending is worth getting to ... Will appeal to mystic intellectuals, Francophile feminists, and skeptics of both Western and Eastern medicine.