It’s challenging, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s a great read.
For some reason I thought it was a memoir. I have no idea why I thought that, so I was fully expecting to not like it when it was announced as the FALS Book Club book for July. (Read the blurb? Or course I didn’t read the blurb. It was for book club, I was just going along with it.)
But only a few pages in, I was hooked.
I was immediately struck by the protagonist, Kerry, conversing with a murder of crows, of waark. Partly, it was because having a conversation with birds is absolutely something I would do, but importantly, the encounter sets the scene of Kerry’s displacement, “can’t talk lingo! Can’t even find its way home!”
Right from the start, Too Much Lip makes a few things clear: it presents an Indigenous worldview, and it’s complicated. This was not a conversation with birds the way I have conversations with birds.
Using words in Bundjalung language is a clever and subtle tool to create discomfort for a Settler audience: don’t understand? It’s because you don’t belong. But, as the waark tell us, Kerry doesn’t have a full grasp of it either. There’s been a break in her language, a colonialism-created and -enforced break. There, have some more discomfort, Settler reader.
In trying to establish why I didn’t like The Slap, I initially thought it was because I couldn’t relate to anyone or anything, but I realised it was because the characters lacked depth. It doesn’t have to be familiar, it doesn’t have to be relatable, but without nuance and complexity there is no realism. And Too Much Lip’s depth makes it very real.
Nothing about the world in Too Much Lip crosses over with my world, but I don’t doubt that world is real because it has been written with deep and carefully developed character histories. Even if we don’t like the way they are, it is explained why. And that why is tied up with 250 years of colonial history.
But we’re not just told “because White people.” It is shown to us. Illustrated through the situation of one family, where the past has direct and indirect consequences in the present. We see how different members of that family react to this in different ways, in their own ways, and because no two members of the family are the same, it shows the subtle and different ways history can influence people.
I found it difficult to follow at times, particularly trying to establish where members of the family fit in, but that only added to the reminder that I am an outsider; this is not my culture’s familial structure that I am reading about.
It’s uncomfortable to read a book where the characters wouldn’t like me, but they’re well-developed characters full of nuance and complexity, so I believe them.