Scary Monsters, by Michelle de Kretser
19 October 2021
Scary Monsters (published by Allen & Unwin, October 2021) the latest novel from Sri Lankan born Australian writer Michelle de Kretser, literally leaves readers wondering where to begin. With two covers, and telling two stories, what would you do? The first story, set in 1981, centres on a woman named Lili. Her family immigrated to Australia when she was young, but now she works as a teacher in France.
Lili is alarmed by the treatment meted out to immigrants from Northern Africa, who have come to France looking for a new life. Lyle, the central character of the second story in the book, lives in a dystopian near-future Australia, which is still recovering from a recent pandemic. An area of the country is perpetually on fire, casting a smoky pall over the region. Islam has been banned, and anyone who doesn’t “fit in” is deported.
Lyle is also an immigrant, but does his best to act as Australian as possible, lest he garner scorn from the authorities. Despite the dark, ominous, premise of both stories, Michael Williams writing for The Guardian, described Scary Monsters as “both devastating and very funny.” But the question remains, whose story should we read first? Lili’s or Lyle’s?