Mo, the heroine of this intriguing but flawed novel, is the kind of person who needs complete order in her life. Perhaps because of some emotional issues that arose in her childhood, she has almost walled herself off from meaningful human contact.
An environmental scientist, she travels to the rainforest of Borneo to pursue a project intended to measure the natural processes of the eco-system.
Diski is a little too obvious in setting up the inevitable conflict between Mo, who is almost dead inside, and the teeming, pulsating forest which appears as an actual character in the book.
The other dichotomy is provided by Joe, a sexually voracious colleague, who finally pierces Mo's reserve and then cynically dumps her after a single ecstatic night. Joe, the author suggests, is like Nature itself, morally dead, intent only on pursuing his sexual agenda. In a long essay, apparently endorsed by the author, he argues that humans have sentimentalized Nature. "True nature cares for nothing, neither life nor death. It is simply in a perpetual motion of growth and decay, beyond value or morality."
Liam, another colleague, provides different counterpoint. Although happily married with three kids, he pursues a disastrous affair with a young female student with whom he has little in common but whose sexual allure he cannot resist.
The lesson appears to be that life is messy and sometime cruel -- but the messiness and cruelty are necessary for life to exist. The other alternative is Mo's model of total sterility which can scarcely be described as life at all.
The writing is good and occasionally better than good but the characters perform their roles like obedient chessmen manipulated by the author rather than real live people. Ironic in a book about the pulsing necessity of life. For more about me and my latest bookThe Nazi Hunter: A Novel go to www.alanelsner.com.