Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko’s sixth novel, won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary award. It was also short-listed for the Stella Award and several others prestigious awards.
I want to share my enjoyment of this beautifully written novel. I also want and to express how deeply it affected me. However, no review of mine will do justice to such a complex and thought-provoking piece of writing. What follows is a discussion rather than a review.
The title comes from widely used Australian slang. According to the BBC,
To give someone some lip means to speak to someone in a way which is rude and doesn’t show respect.
Author Melissa Lucashenko is a Goorie woman of Bundjalung descent. When she writes about the lives of Indigenous Australians in contemporary Australia, she does so in an authentic and powerful voice.
She writes about major issues. These include black Australian history, race relations in a small town, poverty, crime and incarceration. As well, she depicts the effects of intergenerational trauma, race relations in a small community and family secrets and relationships.
In a brilliant review in the Sydney Morning Herald (1 August 2019) Sue Chenery rightly points out
In the book Lucashenko has sailed headfirst into almost every sensitive issue there is
The plot of Too Much Lip
Kerry Salter returns home to the fictional Australian town of Dorringo after a long absence. Her grandfather, Pop Owen Addison, lies dying in the family home. She rides into town on a large, powerful motorbike which may or may not have been stolen, and lands in the middle of major family crisis and lesser family conflicts.
The crooked mayor of Dorringo, who is also the local estate agent, Jim Buckley, plans to sell off the Salter ancestral country. Kerry and her siblings attempt to mobilise the local Indigenous community. At the same time, the traumatic history of the Salter siblings’ dysfunctional childhood and current disaffection is revealed.
As well, Kerry, a lesbian who has recently broken up with her incarcerated lover, falls in love with a white male boxing coach.
The story of Kerry’s sister, Donna, who returns home after nineteen years away from her family without contact, creates yet more conflict.
Some of the things I loved most about this book
- The complexity of the characters, especially the women. They are gutsy, foul-mouthed and, at the same time, vulnerable.
- Melissa Lucashenko manages to write about larger conflicts that affect all the characters. She combines this with the women’s feminist struggle in an impoverished small town.
- The dense plot in which tensions rise and rise and which brims over with twists and surprises.
- The compassionate voice of the author which pervades the novel, combined with the rawness honesty of the language throughout.
- The combination of tragedy and deep grief with comedy and a sense of fun.
- The setting in the fictional redneck Australian town of Durrongo as well as the beautifully written landscapes and waterscapes.
- The way in which the author draws the reader into the conflict – familial, social and cultural and historical violence but concludes with the hint of hope and redemption at the end.
- Dreamtime stories woven into the novel draw the reader into the reality of the characters.
- The way in which Too Much Lip changed my perception of urban Aboriginal culture.
This book will stay in my mind for a long time. I look forward to reading Melissa Lucashenko’s backlist.
Too Much Lip should be on the reading lists for all senior school students in Australia. We all have much to learn from it.