In the nineties, I had a flat mate who worked for an arts festival. She was an excellent flat mate to have because we were both on tight just-moved-out-of-home budgets and one of the perks of her job was tickets to all kinds of concerts and performances – and I was often her ‘plus one’. However, I soon realised that she was wasting a ticket by taking me to any kind of interpretive dance. I appreciated the skill and athleticism of these performances but I simply didn’t enjoy it.
I’m afraid Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau was the reading equivalent of interpretative dance for me.
The story is told through short, punchy vignettes that constitute chapters (some are just a sentence or a paragraph long). A story emerges – teenage girl, Monk, lives in Chinatown with her washed-up painter father. She meets Santa Coy, who may be her boyfriend. Santa Coy inserts himself into Monk and her father’s lives, impressing them with his own brand of artwork. As Monk tries to find her place in the world, her relationships take various turns.
I understand why readers are excited by Lau – her writing is expressive and commanding, with bizarre descriptions that have you re-reading and imagining –
He rises and bubbles like dough in Grandma’s microwave oven.
Zig opens the door and inside is an oversized T-shirt mania.
Cardigan metropolis and a hushed-voice millennia.
And while ‘imagining’ is nice, Lau’s writing is also relentless. There’s a lot of language that’s tricked up. In fact so much of it, that it begins to wash over you and, when you do pause to consider the meaning of what she has written, it’s hard to ignore the nonsensical –
Before bed we watch a television show about the hazards of motorbike riding. It’s a PG-rated nine-o’clock couch show.
Everybody here is a new clam shell and fresh juicy shrimps on the island bench from Costco.
He’s a packed lunch with a suitcase and Raf cufflinks and Dad is a grumpy brown couch again.
And the use of similes quickly feels overdone –
We are in a big white space like an angel’s hot tub.
His apartment is like petrol station and coconut butter.
A big bald man with huge lungs like bombs…
…her lips like a fancy woman’s pregnancy.
Did I mention relentless? Descriptions of people’s voices are over-the-top (I longed for a simple ‘She said…’) –
…she has a voice like plump cushions.
This voice I’m doing is an ancient valley.
…my voice a big puff instead.
Her voice is a soft egg whisk.
What do these things actually mean? What is a ‘nine-o’clock couch show’? When are lungs like bombs? Does her voice sound like softly whisking eggs or is it the actual whisk? From this chaos, a plot emerges, as does a distinct style but unfortunately not a style that appealed to me.
A ‘challenging’ book can be enjoyable or a trial. In this case, I didn’t enjoy this challenging book.
2/5 Score based on my enjoyment of a book (as opposed to the skill of the author).
When we get to the resort it’s a wasteland surrounding a shiny oasis. A strange watering hole. There are Hawaiian-shirted parvenus and pina colada kings.