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.
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)