Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Jamie Marina Lau

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A while ago I wrote a post about not keeping up with new releases (New Oz Lit Fic) where I said that looking through the posts of other bloggers the book that intrigued me most was Pink Mountain etc., though I then went on to review Krissy Kneen’s Wintering because no one else had and because I had really liked An Uncertain Grace.

Just recently Milly and I had tea – what else could you call it, we eat between 5.00 and 6.00 – at the Balmoral and wandered across the road to our local Indie, Crow Books, at the southern end of the Victoria Park/Albany Hwy restaurant strip which is coming along nicely although broken in the middle by the remaining used car lots, so we don’t often feel the need or have the energy to go further abroad. Though this long weekend just past we had all day and crossed to the other side of the city to Leederville, home to the Luna art house cinemas, lots of students, a big pub and some very good restaurants, had a very long tapas lunch followed by the latest Little Women movie, which seemed to me to follow My Brilliant Career in being mainly about the writing of the book rather than the lives of the young women.

So Crow Books. I was pleased to see they had Wild Sheep Chase at last, and beside it, alphabetically by author, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, both of which I bought and have read, and I also and at last bought PMoLI, which in between paperwork for my new trailer (two lots for the state, one lot for the national regulator), my annual physical, end of quarter company accounts and end of year tax, I have now also read. And enjoyed.

By her various bios and interviews Lau is a Melbourne art student and to be honest this, her first novel, reads like a talented young art student’s first novel, experimental, biographical, YA. If she’s serious, she’ll get better and hopefully edgier – though it’s notable the number of authors who have gone the other way, ie become more conventional: Helen Garner, Andrew McGahan, Chris Tsialkos. Justine Ettler and to a lesser extent, Nikki Gemmell, stand out for sticking to their guns, and maybe I should add Jane Rawson, whom I was happy to see commenting on Michelle Scott Tucker’s most recent post that she was writing, hopefully another novel.

Somewhere there in the press releases there was an announcement that Lau’s publisher Brow Books, had secured her next two novels. So I’m expecting to read soon the adventures of Monk – the 15 year old protagonist of PMoLI – grown up to be an art student and writer of experimental fiction.

Kimbofo and Kate W were bemused by the way Lau uses words. I was thinking about their reviews when I came on this

I get to the door when Honey’s locking up and she shudders when I tap her on the shoulder. Her whitened face is a frisson and she picks up her bags from the ground again. She says that she didn’t see me here. Her voice is a kind of breathiness, the kind they have in black and white movies with crowded lips.

Pink Mountain on Locust Island is some months in the life of a 15 year old Chinese-Australian girl living in a flat in Chinatown with her ex-art school teacher father. The mother has left. If this is Melbourne Lau doesn’t say so and a short road trip ends up at a resort that feel Queenslandish, so the location is non-specific (though there’s trams).

Monk shows us spurts of her fifteen year old, year 10 life in ‘chapters’ of a few lines or a few pages. Her father’s sister Linda who lives nearby and takes her in when her father is worn out; her own sister, married to a western guy; her girlfriend Yuya; Yuya’s mother Honey; the guy she meets, Santa Coy, a year 12 graduate, and so 18,19, and a painter. She takes Santa Coy home, he impresses her father who snaps out of his depression and organizes showings and sales for Santa Coy, they mass-produce, make lots of money. Some of what they sell is in Ziploc bags. She has a very 15 year old sex life, lying on the bed with Santa Coy, kissing, his hand up her tank top.

Santa Coy goes away, a Bahamas holiday with his family; Monk at a loose end walks the city streets till late, comes home to find her father unconscious on the floor, beaten up, calls an ambulance. Obviously it’s voodoo, she goes to Honey for advice. Santa Coy comes home. There’s parties. Santa Coy kisses a boy. The father stays in hospital. Honey persuades Monk to revenge her father by passing the curse on to Sadie who turns out to be Yuya’s boyfriend’s mother. It doesn’t go well. The unregarded Aunty Linda is the rock when all else are crumbling.

I don’t look down on YA, but nor does it express adult emotions. I suspect this novel was written in year 11 or 12, was revised at uni, even while the next instalment, a portrait of the young woman as an art student (I’m guessing), was well underway.

Jamie Marina Lau is up there with Elizabeth Tan, authors whose second books I am very much looking forward to.

 

Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Brow Books, Melbourne, 2018 (and printed at McPherson’s in Maryborough, Vic. so buy lots of copies)

19 thoughts on “Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Jamie Marina Lau

    • I never really grew out of these student-ish books, and I guess if you take Grunge as a description rather than a movement, then this one is in there with all the other grunge books and writers I like. Though, as I say, it feels very young.

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  1. No, I could not get anywhere with this one. I tried, twice.
    I think you’re right, she’s possibly a promising writer, who’s been rushed into print too soon. Because (until reading your thoughts) I had dismissed her as a writer I wasn’t going to bother with in future.

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    • I’m answering you and Liz at the same time and trying not to say the same thing twice. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss her, and I’m not even sure the Stella judges were wrong to rate her so highly. Lau is a literary talent, and if her apparently multi-media art career takes her in the direction of writing – and she has a 3 book deal with Brow – then I expect her to produce more interesting work. I’ll make another prediction – number 3 will be the dud, not number 2 as sometimes happens.

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  2. Well Brow Books have made a splash with the books they have published, and I liked The Town by Shaun Prescott, but I feel I gave Lau a good go before deciding not to continue so a lot depends on who reviews her next one and whether they inspire me to try again.

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  3. Thanks for this thoughtful review Bill. I enoufined reading what you had to say and your perspective of her as a writer. I have not read this book, though have wondered about trying it. I might wait for the second.

    Your comment that “I don’t look down on YA, but nor does it express adult emotions” is one I’ve made too. It’s the main difference between YA novels and adult novels with young people protagonists.

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  4. Thanks for the link back to mine… sorry, I’m so behind on commenting on people’s blogs and reviewing books. I think you’re right, Lau is a writer to watch. But I sometimes feel that people who make the decisions about what to publish and promote mistake clunky / sloppy writing as “experimental” and therefore must have high literary merit. Or perhaps I’ve just spent far too many years as a sub-editor transforming copy from cow’s ears to silk purses. LOL.

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    • It’s certainly hard to see why some books are published. In this case, I think Lau and Lifted Brow are a good fit. And to the extent the book is ‘experimental’ it’s mostly in the structure rather than the writing, though as you point out, she sometimes uses words in odd ways.

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  5. I used to follow another blogger who has since quite writing book reviews (she had a baby and got a book published), but she used to tell me that Australian YA was much more realistic and gritty than American YA. Though I only sampled one Aussie YA novel, I have to agree with what she said. That being said, I wonder how hard you’d cringe at a book about an American teen — I sure know I do most of the time.

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    • If I can generalise about American popular culture, it is that at the last moment you back off and go for the sentimental ending. And you’re right, I think that is less true of Australia.

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      • When I try to explain different facets of American culture, I realize that I sound so confusing. We are one big ball of contradictions, and we love to shame each other if we don’t agree on whatever it is that’s full of contradictions that makes no sense.

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