This book is set in Melbourne, but it’s a dissonant Melbourne- recognizable, yet there’s something wrong. Locations were familiar to me, and yet I think that inhabitants of any affluent city could recognize their own here: every city seems to have a Docklands with high-rise buildings, a ‘Westgate’ bridge or some variation on a similarly anodyne name, malls, a waterfront, a Casino, tourist Ferris wheels [although, unlike Melbourne, most cities seem to have one that actually works.]
In this future Melbourne, the tourist, civic, retail and commercial centres have been made safer by close electronic surveillance and the requirement for official entry documentation. The inner suburbs have been declared an ‘interzone’, providing residential housing for those permitted to work in the city centre. Those without the required documents, or the ‘undocs’ are prohibited from working legally and are thus forced into a marginal existence, scrounging for food, working illegally and squatting in disused buildings and under viaducts, bridges and in tunnels. The proper place for ‘undocs’ is outside the city, in the Regions, where services are non-existent and civic governance seems to have collapsed.
Tally and Grace are teenaged sisters living in the regions, dragged from town to town throughout the Regions by their drug-dealing father. They had long been planning an escape to the city, even though they would be ‘undocs’, but when their father is killed in a drug-kitchen explosion, they are separated and unsure how to find each other again. The book traces their two paths as they search, each struggling to find a toe-hold in this dystopian society.
The structure of the book is interesting. It is divided into 12 chapters, each announced with a rather excessive unnecessary title page, such as you might see when a book has Part I, Part II etc. Within the chapters, each scene is headed by an annotation of place and people present, as if part of a dossier. Multiple scenes make up each chapter, and this device quickly contextualized the episode that followed, but also endowed a filmic quality on the narrative. The scenes were quite distinct from each other, and the writing was so fresh and careful in each one that you almost felt as if they were written, and should be read, each time as a polished episode in its own right. I don’t normally like such disjointed writing as it sometimes seems a bit of a cop-out from the hard work of maintaining the narrative and moving it forward. But in this case, each one was so beautifully written and worked well in inching the story forward that it felt like a considered and well-chosen narrative structure.
Tally and Grace and their search for each other lie at the heart of this novel, but there are other themes woven in as well: exploitation, surveillance, dissent and authoritarianism. Unlike some science fiction (or is it ‘speculative fiction’ these days?) she does not spend a great deal of time on the logistics and details of this chilling world but instead uses it as a backdrop to the story of these two lost sisters.
My rating: 8.5/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: it is the second book that I am reading for the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge 2012