Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko : Book Review

Published in 2018 by University of Queensland Press.

A few years ago I was a regular attendee at a local Bookclub. Lovely women though lots of Jane Austen and Alice Walker novels and strictly no consumption of food or alcohol. Not even a coffee. These old dears took their reading very seriously…….

When it was my turn to nominate a book I suggested something recent and by an Australian author : Melissa Lucashenko, an Indigenous Australian writer of adult literary fiction and non-fiction, and novels for teenagers.  Can’t get more Dinky-Di than that, can you?

I thoroughly enjoyed Mullumbimby as it was familiar in both location and context as well as being contemporary. It did not go down well with the old dears who were appalled by the language and the sex scenes. 

That marked the end of my Bookclub period.

Lucashenko’s latest book Too Much Lip won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.

This is one confrontational novel with an uncomfortable depiction of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I’m even more uncomfortable in that as a non- Indigenous person I would be made a pariah if I even suggested some of the things which are in the book.

Protagonist Kerry returns to her hometown of Durrongo, just over the Qld border, on a stolen Harley to bid farewell to her dying grandfather. A fugitive with warrants out for her arrest, she intends to stay in town for the funeral only. However she soon becomes embroiled in dramas with regards to her family, her local family history, and the overdevelopment of the local community, and unexpectedly finds love with a white fella despite previously being a proud lesbian.

All of the characters are flawed and totally devoid of charm. There’s domestic violence, fraud, alcoholism, welfare, pedophilia and child neglect issues. There’s White colonisation, aboriginal massacres and the Stolen Generation issues to boot. Yet within all this ugliness and brutality entwined are beautiful things such as Dreamtime stories, connection to country, communication with animals (totems) and ancestors.

In the Afterword Lucashenko writes that while Too Much Lip is a work of fiction “lest any readers assume this portrayal of Aboriginal lives is exaggerated, I would add that virtually every incidence of violence in these pages has occurred within my extended family at least once. The (very) few exceptions are drawn either from the historical record or from Aboriginal oral history”.

Gulp!

Compelling reading.

Warning : I must be getting old. The language is more contemporary than contemporary. But not too old – if my daughters spoke like this they’d still cop a hiding.


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