LONELY ASIAN WOMAN
by Sharon Lam (Lawrence & Gibson, $29)
Reviewed by Danielle O'Halloran-Thyne
Here's a good read if you are looking for a surreal break-up romance with no drama, but plenty of emotional personification (think the Ally McBeal dancing baby - if you weren't watching TV in the 90s, just google it).
Lam writes from the first person narrative of Paula, the main character, whom we meet just as her boyfriend Eric (not her soulmate), is leaving for an internship in Copenhagen. Paula is a 20-something graduate with no job, living alone in an apartment paid for by her Chinese parents. While Eric sends intermittent emails from his new home, we get to hear Paula's rambling inner dialogue at various dinners with old co-workers and accidental cafe run-ins with ex-boyfriends.
Long periods alone in her apartment see Paula looking forward to visits from tradies and giving Ted Talks in the shower, gradually more preoccupied with unreality. Paula also has an imaginary obese alter ego, Paulab, a comical dysmorphia so real that it becomes another person to hang with.
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Life takes a twist when a mundane shopping trip is interrupted by an extraordinary find in a supermarket trolley that turns up the dial on Paula's unreality. Paula's friends accept her new normal without blinking. This made me wonder whether it was the author's intention to hold up the mirror to Paula's ordinary moments as similarly under the influence of an unreliable narrator.
Either way, if you can wade through Lam's litany of the banal in Paula's day-to-day, be reassured that the build-up of the ordinary is what makes the surreal undertows more enjoyable. Being a tourist inside Paula's point of view gives the reader time to dip into her sushi choices and the kind of romance that is mainly anxiety.
It makes Lonely Asian Woman great for a winter weekend lie-in, with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle. Expect quirky millennial vocal fry with self-aware sentimentalism. A curious take on the weird journey into adult urban life from a debut novelist who makes the form feel easy.