Book Review: Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau

Monk and her father live in a tiny Chinatown apartment. Her mother is long gone, her sister is unhappily married, and her father spends his days on the couch, bitter about his failed artistic career. When Monk meets worldly rich kid Santa Coy, she sees a chance to venture into a more sophisticated world. But when she introduces him to her father, the two men begin a venture of their own; one which excludes Monk. Left out, seething with teenage angst, and struggling with her sense of self, Monk begins to rebel. She delves deeper into the murky undercurrents of her father and Santa Coy’s dealings, with life-changing consequences.

This is an incredibly sophisticated debut book from author Jamie Marina Lau. Part noir novel, part coming-of-age tale, the story is told in a series of staccato snapshots. Sentence fragments and fluid language are used to great effect, capturing the authentic voice of the story, its teenage protagonists, and the digital age. Lau’s prose follows as many conventions as it breaks, and she pays sharp attention to detail. Her descriptions are very sensory and often unusual, and the details she highlights are unexpected, but they work in the context of her characters and setting. The short, sharp chapters—some as short as a single sentence—draw the reader in, making Lau’s rich and nuanced plot appear deceptively simple.

The angst and uncertainty of the journey towards adulthood is captured perfectly in Monk’s increasingly complex character. Her family is a theatre of dysfunction, and her search for a sense of identity includes the travails of fragile teen friendships, and nonconformist behaviour. Monk’s naïveté and desire for attention sometimes make her difficult to like; but this is a testament to Lau’s deft ability to craft and humanise her characters. The book is also a cultural nod, with the setting and vivid descriptions of food and decor in an anonymous Chinatown. It also explores the challenges of diasporic life, and of existing simultaneously across multiple cultural settings and as different selves.

This is a novel written for a generation of digital natives by one of their own, reflective of both their lived experience and their style of content engagement; yet it also nods to the literary on a deeper level. With its experimental form and innovative language, Pink Mountain On Locust Island is a superb example of the future of literary fiction.

Amanda McLeod is a Canberra-based author and artist, with several short fiction works published in print and online. Find her on Twitter @AmandaMWrites.

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