This is a brave, unique novel. Paftoo is an artificial man who works in a former country estate (the last in England?) that has been turned into a rural amusement park for the benefit of shallow human masters (“Intrepid Guests”). The story is told entirely from Paftoo’s point of view, and since Paftoo’s memories are incomplete, the reader must puzzle along with him as he gropes to reconstruct his past and unfetter himself.
Lifeform Three concerns many themes–environment, mechanization, consciousness, free will, etc.–but Roz Morris is too good a writer to tell us what to think about any of this. Her writing is grounded in Paftoo’s sensation and experience, leaving explanations to the reader’s imagination. We don’t know how affairs got this way, or who, if anyone, is in control. We do know that this is a world on auto-pilot, in which the artificial “bods” are more human than their overlords.
Such a book defies classification by genre. The story is a fable, a dystopian fiction, an introspective mystery. Think of the brilliantly maddening film Memento, set in a Blade Runner universe. Think of Doris Lessing on a blind date with Franz Kafka. Think of any author you care to name who pursues an idiosyncratic vision with single-minded purpose.
It’s a risky strategy to create a main character who is reactive rather than proactive. At times I longed for more specificity, more plan, and I was grateful for the explosive ending. But this isn’t a work written according to formula. I was carried along by the beauty of the spare, lyrical voice, and the slow unraveling of mystery. The book widens and deepens with each reading.