BOOK: Scary Monsters
AUTHOR: Michelle de Kretser
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
What comes first, the past or the future?
This is one of the questions that Michelle de Kretser asks in her novel Scary Monsters, the ninth book in the LAX LAB climate fiction book club. Scary Monsters is a novel that experiments with form. It is a diptych. Pick up the novel, turn it around, and flip it over. There are two front covers. Two stories. You, dear reader, decide how to read the book and which narrative comes first. In the author’s own words: ‘This is a novel about migration, and what migration does is turn things upside down – events, lives – so what about a book you have to turn upside down? This was my modest way of upending the novel form … If a novel is a single continuous narrative, here is a novel that is not.’ (de Kretser in Williams 2021).
One story takes place in the 1980s and follows Lili, whose family emigrated from Asia to Australia. She is now teaching high-school students in the south of France, modelling her life after Simone de Beauvoir, and bearing witness to the poor treatment of North African immigrants in French society. The other story is set in near-future Australia and follows Lyle, also an Asian immigrant. He works for the Australian government, which has outlawed Islam in its efforts to safeguard ‘Australian values’. A Permanent Fire Zone burns in perpetuity and Australia has become a ‘climate-ravaged hellscape’ (Cummins 2022).
So, where will you start? The past or the future?
'Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser review – anger, alarm and satirical glee'
Anthony Cummins, The Guardian, 3 January 2022
‘Michelle de Kretser turns the novel upside down: “My aim was to play with form”’
Michael Williams, The Guardian, 14 October 2021