Too Much Lip
By Melissa Lucashenko
Publication date: 30 July 2018
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Too much lip, her old problem from way back. And the older she got, the harder it seemed to get to swallow her opinions. The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger. (University of Queensland Press.)
So much powerful social commentary has been tucked into the framework of this rip-roaring story. Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip could be a hardboiled detective novel with Kerry Salter as the tough, flawed heroine – plenty of sex, swearing and crime, much of it committed by the heroine herself. But Lucashenko and her heroine are Indigenous Australians and Lucashenko not the kind of author to limit herself to a rip-roaring story.
In Too Much Lip we have a novel of family, masculinity and femininity, trauma, love, bias and redemption, and of course, of Australia black and white. I’m not convinced it’s a novel of forgiveness. As Uncle Richard says near the end of the novel, “We aren’t talking about forgiveness. That’s the dugai [white Australian] way. But can we at least keep on going as a family?” There’s optimism in this ending not just for the Salter family but for a divided Australia.
Some of the best genre novels promise satisfying conclusions in worlds that are foreign or new to the reader – whether it’s a gritty urban underworld, Scandi noir, or Chinese, Lao, or Scottish detectives to name a few popular examples. It’s telling that Lucashenko’s novel, set in locations familiar from my childhood, still offered that sense of authenticity and unfamiliarity due to Lucashenko’s knowledge of her characters’ unique culture.
In philosophy we contemplate the impossibility of inhabiting someone else’s experience. In fiction we are invited in, and it is here that the quality of experience may be telling between writers: very few Australian writers could write what Lucashenko does. It is an honour to be invited to experience her worldview, and one I recommend to all Australians.