Formaldehyde, Jane Rawson


Jane Rawson did an interview with Booktopia which she put up on her blog late last year. If you haven’t seen it check it out, but here are a couple of extracts:

  1. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s just a little chap, a novella, called Formaldehyde. I had my first go at writing it when I was that pretend 30-year-old version of myself, who could do things like stay out til 2 in the morning and wear very high heels and play guitar in a band and also write the extremely rough first draft of a novella, it turned out…

There are jokes and quite a few revelations. People tend to call it ‘Kafkaesque’.

  1. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

If the world feels a little more intriguing and odd to them, if they’re a bit more inclined to speculate and make wild suppositions, then I think I’m happy.

Jane repeatedly refers to this book as “little” so I multiplied out the words and the pages and came up with 40,000 – equivalent to 2 dissertations, so not insignificant, or maybe half a ‘real’ novel, but only $14.99, so half price as well! And definitely a full novel’s worth of entertainment.

The first thing to say about Formaldehyde is be very careful to read the chapter headings, which I don’t normally, or you will soon be hopelessly lost. The first chapter – “2022: PAUL” – commences:

Not knowing that I was dead, I went about my business that day like I did on every other.

And that sets the tone. Paul finds being dead a problem, not least for his fellow office workers, who ask him to leave. Later in the novel he phones one:

‘Hey Louise. It’s Paul Crawford here. How’re you going? Things still rolling along alright without me?’

‘Sorry, who did you say it was?’

‘It’s Paul, Louise. Remember. I worked there two weeks ago.’

‘Oh, Paul, hi, how are you? How are you feeling? Are you OK?’

‘Apparently I’m dead.’

‘I know, they told us. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Paul.’

‘Oh, it’s OK. It’s not as bad as I expected it to be.’

‘Sorry, Paul. It’s kind of a bad time. I was just on my way to weekly staff meeting. But you’d remember that.’

‘Of course. You run along. And say hi to the others for me.’

‘Paul, you’re dead. People don’t like hearing hi from dead people. It makes them uncomfortable.’

The book proceeds via a series of vignettes which we slowly reconcile.

Derek, a nurse, is in a streetcar accident and comes to, nursing a young woman in a bunny costume, whose arm has been severed. The young woman is taken to Derek’s hospital where he is able to visit, and fall in love with, her.

Amy is in love with a Taylor Swift-ish singer, but is one of those tragic lovers who pushes the love-object away. To express her unhappiness she lies in the bath and cuts off her arm.

Everyone is reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.

Benjamin wakes up in hospital, missing her bunny suit, but with a new, not very functional arm.

Paul discovers that as a dead person not only is he unable to obtain unemployment benefits, but he can no longer access his flat. He meets a girl called Benjamin who takes him home. For hot sex, if only he could stay awake.

Amy is pregnant, but the only person she has slept with is her (female) singer/lover. She returns briefly to Derek, whose wife she is, and when she has had the baby, leaves again.

And so the interactions between the characters go round and round. But why should I spoil it for you by spelling it out any further. One clue though, Paul is real, he’s not a ghost. And it does all make sense in the end. Sort of. So do yourself a favour, for less than it costs to shout a mate a pint of beer, curl up in bed for a couple of hours and read it for yourself.


Jane Rawson, Formaldehyde. Xoum Publishing, Sydney, 2015

Other reviews here

My review of Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists here

12 thoughts on “Formaldehyde, Jane Rawson

  1. Thanks Lisa, I did a search to see if you had done your review yet, then I had to sit on mine because I prepared a couple of posts in advance while I was on hols. When you get to it you’ll enjoy it, it’s a fun read.


  2. I tried to review this one in a ‘racy’ style to match the author and of course without giving anything away but I wonder if in the end I wasn’t light on analysis and heavy on back-cover-blurb.
    Old books I review it doesn’t occur to me not to discuss the ending, but of course you can’t do that with new books. In the next couple of weeks I am going to discuss the ending of Go Set a Watchman because I think it’s important – I’ll just have to say so at the outset.
    Speaking of which, I gave son Lou Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem for xmas. He said he had already read it and that it was totally spoiled for him as the ending is in the back cover blurb! I had to give him Black Rock White City out of my TBR as a replacement.


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