Melissa Lucashenko's TOO MUCH LIP
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
I have to admit to being a bit cranky when Boy Swallows Universe, my favourite Australian novel of 2018, missed out on the Miles Franklin shortlist. It was a massive bestseller loved by many readers and has already won a swag of awards. I hadn’t read the other shortlisted books so I was not passing any judgement on their being shortlisted but leaving off a shortlist of six a book that was loved by many and already recognized by other book awards I thought was a mistake. Not just because I thought it was a great book but leaving it off the shortlist indicated a literary snobbery which risked unengaging other readers with what is Australia’s top book award.
However, after reading this year’s Miles Franklin winner I have changed my mind. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko is an outstanding novel. It is one of those books that just gets better and better as you read it. The whole novel is engaging, thought-provoking, confronting and immensely entertaining the entire way through. The story follows Kerrie Salter who has recently returned home, to the small northern NSW town she grew up in. She is on the run from a bad relationship and possibly some outstanding warrants in Brisbane. Where better to try and sort yourself out but back at home amongst family. What could possibly go wrong? Except for a crooked land deal, a funeral, an unexpected love affair and a dark family secret. Not much right?
There are so many things this novel does so well. Primarily it is a book about family. Those we love, those we hate and how often they can be the same person at the same time. It is a story that is instantly recognizable yet for many white Australians like myself it is also a portrait of an Australia I have little to no knowledge, experience or contact with. It demonstrates the racial divides in Australia but manages to do this in a genuinely inclusive manner exploring not only race but sexuality, poverty and corruption. The novel also confronts Australia’s history. A subject that has sadly become a battleground. Melissa Lucashenko doesn’t shy away from this battleground, instead she exposes it and in doing so shows that history is shaped, bent and remoulded by everybody, on both sides. It is retold to suit all types of different needs and to bury all manner of dark secrets. Blame can be laid in many places but the most important thing, even more important that forgiveness or apology, is acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of what really happened. Because if we can’t even acknowledge our past how can we build a future. Melissa Lucashenko packs this all into a wildly entertaining story that you cannot read fast enough but at the same time don’t want it to end.
This is the perfect example of why we need book awards. I am deeply embarrassed I did not read this book sooner. If it wasn’t for the Miles Franklin Award, I may not have picked this book up at all, and that is a truly frightening thought. Too Much Lip is the best Australian novel of 2018 and represents a deeply important and too often overlooked “phase of Australian life”. It is a deeply profound and important book but its true brilliance is that the book does this through a thoroughly enjoyable story that you cannot put down and want to lend to a friend as soon as you finish it.
Title: Too Much Lip
Author: Melissa Lucashenko
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Category: General Fiction
Publication Date: 25/07/2018