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Tabula Rasa

The Year of the Fruitcake

by Gillian Polack, Bookview Cafe, 2019

A review by Kyla Lee Ward

A copy of this book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

The Year of the Fruitcake, by Gillian Polack

"Am I a judge who will decide the fate of humanity?
"Am I a bloody anthropologist observing everything and getting involved despite themselves?
"Am I a time-traveller, documenting the dead?
"Do I represent collectors, come to identify and steal the best humankind can offer?
"Do I represent a race of invaders, with the goal of destroying humanity and taking its place?
"Or am I simply barking mad...."
This is a challenging book, both to read and to process. Comprised of an observer's reports on human society, an academic's analysis of those reports and a heartbreaking personal record, it provides a confronting and indeed alienating experience. At its heart lies five women living in Canberra, Australia, in the year 2016. Being of a certain age, they are largely ignored by their spouses, disrespected by their children, disregarded at work and frankly just about everywhere else. Their regular meetings to vent, indulging in such small pleasures as hot chocolate and a walk in the park, are somehow also a record of interplanetary catastrophe.

Polack's usual mosaic style of narrative—present in such works as The Time of the Ghosts and A Life Through Cellophane—is here stripped back to rigid bones. To extract the characters and events, and recognise where they fit in the evolving structure requires work, sustained concentration and patience. However, I feel this is a deliberate choice on the author's part, reflecting the confusion of a mind built on equations and fractals attempting to deal with stories. Very ordinary stories of ordinary lives.

Why should they be ordinary? The narration screams. Why should abuse, discrimination, failure and loss be so utterly par for the course? Would it not be better that this race is reduced to cosmic dust, than such suffering continue? Worse, that it should spread into a wider galactic society? But this society is far from perfect itself and, as the cracks begin appearing in the observer's carefully constructed human facade (with a Standard Childhood Package that hasn't been updated since the 1950s), it becomes clear that anyone's claim to objectivity is a lie.

It is all terribly ingenious and ingeniously terrible—what's going on here almost constitutes a new class of crime. A sense grows of a relentless cycle, a trap so perfect that noticing its existence is in itself an epic feat, leading only to bleak despair. I would be lying by omission if I didn't say I found parts of this book to be a slog and others extremely uncomfortable. But as the truth of the situation starts to filter through, as the observer's comprehension grows and the analyst's turns into horror, the cycling builds to a crescendo that resolves matters in a satisfying way and more, with a rare kind of heroism.

This is a map of terra familiar. Here be lizards.

 

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