Late last year I hosted a review of Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic by Amanda who had responded to my call on the Australian Women Writers Challenge for reviews of it and Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island, which won the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Readings Residency Award, and was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Amanda offered to write reviews of both, and so, as with Axiomatic, I am hosting Amanda’s review, so that it can then be added to the AWW database. Thanks very much – again – Amanda!
Synopsis of Pink Mountain on Lotus Island
From publisher The Lifted Brow’s website:
“Monk lives in Chinatown with her washed-up painter father. When Santa Coy—possible boyfriend, potential accomplice—enters their lives, an intoxicating hunger consumes their home. So begins a heady descent into art, casino resorts, drugs, vacant swimming pools, religion, pixelated tutorial videos, and senseless violence.”
Twenty-year-old Lau’s debut novel is simultaneously innovative, surreal, disjointed and funny. At her best she writes like a stand-up routine; at her worst, though, she veers into the bizarre and nonsensical: “cardigan metropolis and a hushed voice millennia”; “he was in a creme brulee mood”. I don’t get it either. The chapters are divided into numerous short vignettes and sequences, some only a sentence long and follow a linear timeline. It’s a book for the social media and internet age – perhaps written for those just getting used to reading serious prose after the word limits on Twitter.
Its protagonist Monk is 15, and living with her Xanax-addicted former Art lecturer Dad after the departure of her Mum. It could be set in any urban metropolis with a bustling Chinatown. Along comes the love interest Santa Coy (also a developing artist) and then things get complicated.
There is a narrative though that can be followed, and it is cinematic so you can visually follow her discussions around what makes Art and what people will sacrifice for it, the difficulties of human relationships, and cross cultural complexities.
Food is another obsession – its preparation, consumption, description of, e.g. Yum Cha – and some bizarre discussions. What is the difference physically and philosophically between turnips and yams? Turnips are lively and yams are brooding. Obviously, if you didn’t know this you have to visit the same supermarkets as Monk does. [Haha, love this Amanda.]
Some plot twists are unbelievable and her non-traditional use of metaphors and language often fall flat. Lau (who also makes music under the pseudonym ZK King, hence the musical references in the novel) stated in an interview that she often has several browsers open while writing – reading articles, listening to music etc – and this multimedia multi-tasking is what comes across in her writing and original use of language.
Lau described Monk as the most sincere female character she had created – and that is the strength of this novel, Lau’s authentic portrayal of her teenage Monk as a composite of angst, joy, confusion, curiosity and strength. You just need to get through some bizarre distractions to discover this.