Cheyenne Blue's Reviews > Mullumbimby

Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
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it was amazing
bookshelves: australian, literary-fiction

I bought this book after hearing Melissa Lucashenko interviewed on the ABC. She made an impact with her obvious intelligence, thoughtfulness, and observations on race, identity, and growing up Russian/Irish/Goorie.

Mullumbimby is a stunning novel. Set in the northern NSW town of the same name, it follows the story of Jo, her daughter, Ellen, Jo’s lover, Twoboy, and her various friends and other characters that populate the rural region. Jo buys a small farm with her divorce money, and thus realizes a long-held dream of holding land and keeping horses.

Set against Jo’s story is Twoboy’s, who is struggling to establish his Bundjalung identity and get his land rights claim accepted in the courts. Each of these characters have their own lives and agendas, but somehow they form a relationship.

There are several things I love about Mullumbinby:

I love the sense of place, the landscape, the descriptions and love and immersion the characters—all of them—have with the land where they live. This is particularly important to me, as it’s something I share, and something I always try to incorporate in my own writing. Lucashenko is lyrical in her love for the bush and the birds and animals, whether she’s talking about king parrots wheeling over the forest, an approaching storm, or talking to the blue heron that appears to block her path. Birds play an enormous part in this story: fairy wrens, lyrebirds, magpies, and of course the parrot in the pet shop in town that Twoboy teaches to say “Let me outta here you cunts”.

I loved the dialog. Her characters speak with a naturalness and a realness that brings them to life. There’s no stilted dialog in this book. I loved the many aboriginal words used throughout, in conversation and thought, and I am appreciative that they’re not italicized as a foreign language. There’s humor too, a natural playfulness in the words, short sharp sentences, little explosions of thought and words.

This is a quietly, deeply humorous book too. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but the inner chuckle sort, at the expressions, the irony of speech, the laconic nature of people. It’s uplifting, and warm, even as it’s gritty and somewhat desperate.

I loved the complexity of relationships. Jo and Ellen, Jo and her friend, Therese, Twoboy and the Bullockheads, Uncle Humbug and his totemic meat, Slim the Python. I didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the relationship between Jo and Twoboy – but then I’m not sure that I was supposed to. Two fractious people set on their own course. That there was lust and a sort of love, yes, but not necessarily the lasting sort.

There were a few things that I didn’t whole-heartedly love in the writing. At the start, it seemed as if the author was trying to shovel every tiny memory fragment of her time in the region into the book, so that she could remember it (Lucashenko said in the interview with the ABC that when she could no longer afford to live in the now trendy and expensive Mullumbimby area and had to move to Brisbane, she poured her loss into her book). At the start, this was too much, but once Lucashenko settled into her story, the memory fragments (if that’s what they were) flowed more naturally with the story.
There were a few jarring POV switches, where we were handed a sentence or two of another character’s thoughts or motivations amid the solid POV of Jo Breen, but this I could overlook. These tiny gripes—as that’s what they are—are not enough to drag me out of the story.

One thing this book brought home to me, particularly in the current culture of multiracial harmony that Australia is striving for, is that the racial divide is still there. Not only the racial divide between aboriginal and white (in this book, often reinforced by the Bundjalung people) but also between the different groups of aboriginal people. It brought home to me that, as a white Australian, my roots aren’t here and belonging is an accident of birth as much as anything. That sits uneasily with my own hopes and thoughts, and I don’t like it. Maybe I took it too personally—but ties to land aren’t necessarily tied to birth and shouldn’t be negated for that reason.

But at the end of the day, at the end of the book, this is a story that will resonate with me for a long time. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
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Reading Progress

November 28, 2014 – Shelved
November 28, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
November 29, 2014 – Started Reading
November 29, 2014 –
22.0% "Heard the writer interviewed on the ABC yesterday - impressed by what she had to say. So far, not disappointed in the book."
December 6, 2014 – Shelved as: australian
December 6, 2014 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
December 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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Sunshine Biskaps Such a super thoughtful, detailed and unbiased review. Thank you!!


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