"She says that her ma said that she could never be understood in this city. That she was always the lioness or the tiger mummy or the dragon lady. Never a serious business, just a herbal healer. She always wanted to have the power of fixing people because she needed to prove herself, because she wasn’t enough as a woman, especially an Eastern woman. That’s how this city made her feel.”
I've read so many reviews dubbing this a novel for the 'digital-age' for the 'digital-natives' written by one of their 'own'. A book to showcase the 'future of fiction'. All of which, I'll preface by saying, I don't agree with entirely. We'll get to that.
Our narrator is Monk, a second-generation Asian teenager living somewhere in the Western world (presumably Australia, similar to the author). Monk lives with her father in a tiny apartment in Chinatown of the City, her mother left them years before, and her sister is married to a seemingly disinterested and uncultured Westerner. Monk's life is dominated by her bitter and somewhat controlling father until she meets Santa Coy in an internet cafe. 15-year-old Monk is immediately enamoured by the slightly older boy, who gives her his laptop and they begin a dialogue of sorts over text messages. Santa Coy has artistic notions, and after introducing him to her father (a failed artist himself), the two of them develop a bond of sorts that sees Monk pushed to the outskirts of the schemes they embark on.
Perturbed by this, and lacking in her own strong sense of identity or social connections, Monk rebels by ingratiating herself with the seedy underworld of the city. Never quite grasping or understanding the contexts in which she finds herself, Monk sinks deeper into the fray with dire consequences.
Pink Mountain on Locust Island is many things but attempts to label this as a 'generational' book seem not to do it justice. This is an incredibly sophisticated story, with prose, and dialogue that - in the words of the blurb - simply fizzes off the page. To dub this a book of its generation removes the maturity and restraint with which Lau writes. It is a style of writing of which I have never experienced before. And it was exciting to read because of that. Told in short, sharp, tumbling chapters, jumping across the details with the mind of a teenager, while still offering a detailed and sensory explicit story. There is a complex - dare I say it formulaic - approach to the way Lau tells her tale, and I've no doubt she is the only one with the precise formula to deliver such a telling.
Dubbing this a book for the 'digital age' removes a layer of complexity it is more than due. Amongst all the coming-of-age and teenage angst, Lau dives deep into the sense of fracture that comes from living through the challenges of a diasporic life, and a desperate sense of what we will do to find acceptance, attention and acknowledgement for our existence.
With an incredible eye for detail, fluid language, and an authentic voice, Lau's debut novel is not to be missed.