Heat and Light – Ellen van Neerven, Too Much Lip – Melissa Lacashenko
She’s been around a while, has Melissa Lacashenko, publishing laudatory novels since 1997. The other, Ellen van Neerven, also an accomplished poet, is the new kid on the block as far as indigenous fiction is concerned. In their works we meet the Kresingers and the Salters, with both taking us on some journey.
‘Seriously,’ I thought to myself, ‘plantpeople, a new seaweedy species of ‘humans’ emerging from the mangroves of an island off the coast of Queensland. This is not my thing at all.’ But it was. I continued and I’m glad I did. For me the section ‘Water’, of Ellen van Neerven’s ‘Heat and Light’, was the stunning highlight. Set in the future, but in many ways taking us back to the past, it’s a contrast to the contemporary nature of the bookends, ‘Heat’ and ‘Light’, as we meet generations of Kresingers in linked vignettes. None, although exhibiting quite glowing wordsmithery, attracted me to the extent of Kaden’s story. She’s a young liaison officer to those studying, read subduing, the new species. They are trying to pave, read clear, the way for a development project. A relationship grows between her and Larapinta, one of the supposed ungendered plantpeople. The treatment of the ‘specimens’ hark back to our black, black history which gives, to this day, such discomfort to Australians of British descent. It is brave and adventurous writing for van Neerven and the collection won the NSW Premier’s Award for 2016.
We mightn’t have plantpeople, but we do have talking totems, crows and sharks, in ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lacashenko. I don’t know about too much lip, but the plethora of f-bombs and c-words were much too present for my normal taste. It does, I guess, make the novel ‘real’. We all know the type – people who open their oral orifices to produce sentences in which at least one word has to be an expletive – otherwise their standing as hard men or women would be lowered. If the awardees of 2019’s Miles Franklin can live with that, then so can I. The author has produced a rip-roaring yarn and it’s a worthy winner.
When sassy Kerry Salter roars back into her home burb, to rejoin her family, as the patriarch is near departure, she discovers the Salters are just as dysfunctional and disparate as when she left them. She comes to escape, as well, from some heat for misdeeds in her previous location and is firmly of the belief she’s gay. Boy, is she in for a surprise – and not only with her proclivity. When she discovers the plan the devious white local mover and shaker, Jim Buckley, has for a river island sacred to the Salters, she and the rest of her family are up for a fight. There’s Pretty Mary, her mother who, when the going gets tough, takes to her fruity lexia. There’s brother Black Superman, a Sydney-sider , as well as brother Ken, too, a said hardman with an explosive temper. Add to this more unique characters in the extended family and the only one who’s missing is a sister who did a runner many years back.
There’s never a dull moment with the collection of rellies as with the tome. This, as well as ‘Heat and Light’, indicates that the literature of the first people of our country is as strong as ever in the age of #blacklivesmatter.
Ellen van Neerven‘s website = https://ellenvanneervencurrie.wordpress.com/
Melissa Lucashenko’s website = https://www.melissa-lucashenko.com/