By KYLIE LADD
Kylie Ladd has compiled a list of some brilliantly uncomfortable, confronting reads that give readers something to chew on.
1. SUNNYSIDE by JOANNA MURRAY-SMITH
Murray-Smith is better known as a playwright, but her novel Sunnyside was long-listed for the 2006 Miles Franklin award. In it, Murray-Smith deploys her scalpel-sharp wit and insight on the moneyed middle classes, on those aspirational Australians we all know (or, wince, are). There’s Molly, who wants to find inner peace by visiting the local swami (“It was a hell of an improvement on Pilates, that was for sure”) but panics when she’s asked to leave her new Gucci handbag in the change room; there’s the couple who’ve got rich from manufacturing heritage paint colours that they joke to each other should be re-named ‘Frowsy Suburbanites’, or ‘Gruesome Affluence’. There are BMWs and breakdowns, there are “forty-something yummy-mummies at Dunes by the Beach making cynical asides about their husbands. What a salad-fest that would be- rocket coming out of their diamond- studded ears. How many decades had it been since grown women ate something cooked?” For all this, Sunnsyide isn’t a cruel book, but rather a deeply knowing one, and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. I re-read it often for a reality check, and for the frisson of the flinch.
2. ANOTHER COUNTRY by NICHOLAS ROTHWELL
This one isn’t funny, and is far, far more sobering. Nicholas Rothwell has long been the Northern Australia correspondent for The Australian, and Another Country is a collection of his essays for the newspaper. In it, Rothwell details the realities and inequities of life in the top end, an Australia that is so different to the one most of us inhabit that it may as well be another country. In eloquent and moving prose Rothwell documents the effect white settlement has had on the native inhabitants of this land: the massively increased rates of suicide and violent death, the dramatically lowered life span, the loss of language and identity, the endemic kidney failure, the systematic sexual and physical abuse of young children in remote communities, the alcohol abuse, the petrol sniffing, the financial exploitation of desert painters. Rothwell never lectures, just observes, which makes this book all the more harrowing. Read it alongside The Tall Man (Chloe Hooper) and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence (Doris Pilkington) for an Australia that you don’t see in the Lara Bingle commercials.
3. LOLITA by VLADIMIR NABOKOV
Is this the creepiest novel ever written? Its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, initially comes across as a cultured and sophisticated man, a doyenne of taste and refinement, but turns out to be the most unreliable narrator of them all. Humbert is a middle-aged literary professor who becomes obsessed with the 12 year old daughter of his land-lady, who he in turn kidnaps, sedates and eventually molests over and over for a number of years. The girl’s name is Dolores, but Humbert calls her Lolita, stripping of her of her identity along with her innocence and her childhood: ““Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” Lolita was banned in France and the UK for its erotic content, but really isn’t an erotic book at all- just a very sad one. I am glad I have read it, for its power and its prose, and I will never open it again.