cover image Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts

Scary Monsters: A Novel in Two Parts

Michelle de Kretser. Catapult, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64622-109-7

De Kretser’s dark, subtle latest (after the critical study On Shirley Hazzard) offers two vastly different perspectives of immigrants’ experiences in Australia and France. Lyle is a mid-level bureaucrat in near future Australia, coping with an erratic family and fears of deportation. Lili, a young woman who emigrated to Australia from South Asia as a teenager, moves to Paris in the mid-1980s with dreams of living as a “Bold, Intelligent Woman” like her idol, Simone de Beauvoir. Their parallel first-person narratives are not interwoven but presented as two separate stories in a reversible book. While teaching in the south of France, Lili falls in with a hedonistic young woman named Minna, who smokes and introduces her to the cinematheque. By contrast, dutiful family man Lyle fears the subtly growing totalitarianism of Australia, showcased by a ban on practicing Islam and a crematoria boom fueled by rising euthanasia (which perpetually dispels noxious smoke over Melbourne), but he is careful to suppress these fears. He has enough to worry about with the extravagances of his wife, Chanel; his elderly mother, Ivy; and two impulsive adult children. Much of the power comes from the matter-of-fact voices of the two protagonists, making for a disturbing and entirely believable depiction of social upheaval and repression, respectively. The sum leaves readers with a stirring look at the eerie links between past and present. (Apr.)