Book club: Writer Siang Lu’s debut novel pokes fun at showbiz racism
Siang Lu (UQP, $32.99)
Hollywood’s long and inglorious history of whitewashing — that is, the casting of white actors to play people of color in movies and on television — is satirized in Siang’s debut novel. Lu, a writer based in Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur.
Both a highly entertaining game and a clever, in-depth exploration of the racism of the entertainment industry, The Whitewash traces the production of a failed fictional film with the pleasantly absurd title of Brood Empire. Originally conceived as “a blockbuster spy film produced for Western markets and starring, for the first time, an Asian male in the lead role”, the project dramatically imploded after its trailer leaked online. announcement, revealing that a white actor has replaced – and upcoming Hong Kong heart-throb JK Jr as the star. Adding another layer to the narrative is its presentation as an imaginary oral history of the debacle, brought to you by an entertainment website – and self-proclaimed provider of “nasty viral content” – called Click Bae.
The Whitewash is a decidedly ambitious undertaking, synthesizing real-life cinematic history with invented detail to strike the balance – successfully, for the most part – between comedic exaggeration and a sense of authenticity. Its chosen form is also tricky, involving a large cast of characters and a number of stylistic limitations specific to the oral history format, but Lu handles it admirably, despite the odd moment when the narrative can start to feel ever so – a bit stuffed with meta jokes and larger than life narcissists. He has a particular knack for introducing the reader to an apparent stereotype – the stupid pretty boy JK Jr, or his seemingly insipid girlfriend Angela Mu – only to undermine it as the story progresses by imbuing the character with truth. the pathos and the heart.
The resulting novel is intelligent, playful and often very funny, and explores its themes with nuance and insight.
THE BALLROOM MURDER
Leigh Straw (Fremantle Press, $32.99)
One evening in August 1925, art student Audrey Jacob shot and killed her former fiancé, Cyril Gidley, in the middle of a charity ball at Government House in Perth. According to historian and WA scholar Leigh Straw, it became “one of the most sensational murder cases Perth has ever seen” and about which, almost 100 years later, “people still have differing interpretations, largely on how they view the two protagonists”. Straw’s latest book is a vivid yet thoughtful account of the trial that followed, including how Jacob was – remarkably – found not guilty. , despite being “seen by dozens of witnesses and holding a smoking gun to his dying ex-lover.”
Kgshak Akec (UWA Publishing, $32.99)
The relationship between a mother and her daughter is at the heart of the Dorothy Hewett Prize-winning novel by emerging Victorian writer, poet and novelist Kgshak Akec. Inspired by the author’s own journey with his family from South Sudan to Geelong via Egypt and Sydney, Hopeless Kingdom is a timely exploration of migration, trauma, belonging and resilience, told from alternate perspectives of a girl named Akita and her mother, Taresai. “It’s an ode to my mother and all she sacrificed, and a love letter to my childhood,” Akec says of the book. “I think it shines a light on untold Australian stories and opens our eyes to how we’re not that different from each other.”
DESIRE: AN ACCOUNT
Jessie Cole (Text, $34.99)
“I may be the least qualified person to write about desire,” says Jessie Cole – and yet she adds “maybe I will always be drawn to writing about the thing I least understand – a mystery to solve, riddle to complete”. In her intimate and lyrical new book, the critically acclaimed Australian memoirist and novelist explores bodies, lust, grief and much more. Structured in fragmentary and associative vignettes rich in detail vivid, it charts Cole’s harrowing relationship with an older man who is often physically and emotionally distant, but makes him feel like “suddenly I have another sensory tool at my disposal, like I can feel the particles in the air moving in new patterns”.