Book Review: The Cage, by Lloyd Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_cageYou can always rely on Lloyd Jones to come up with something new. He never writes about the same thing and he rarely, in my opinion, writes in the same way (although he might argue with that).

The idea for this latest novel was brought together during a visit to Germany where his daughter was working with refugees, while he was a resident in the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme in 2016-2017.

The Cage is a horrific work. Two strangers arrive in a small NZ town, unable or unwilling to provide information on how they got there. The hotel owner takes them in initially, but a series of events culminates in their living outdoors in a cage. The prototype for the cage was the strangers’ own creation but the reality of its growth was brought about by the actions of the hotelier, his family, his staff and the townspeople.

The strangers effectively become prisoners. The narrator is responsible for recording their activities and reporting to the Trust which has been set up to keep them contained until they are told the whole story. The cage has a key, but it’s apparently missing so the strangers can’t be released. And then, no-one wants to release them until they know their history. Paranoia about the unknown is ever-present, and horribly well drawn by Lloyd Jones – so much so that it’s almost possible to think that you, the reader, can understand why the locals behave as they do. I say almost, deliberately, as I found myself ranting at the narrator to do the right thing – get a pair of tinsnips and cut the damn cage open just for starters.

At one point, quite far along in the story and I won’t give any spoilers about why, the narrator asks ‘What is the question? The question is this. At what point did I know what was going to happen?The second question. Why did I not do anything to prevent it?’

From very early in this novel, I was reminded of the work by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Though possibly that’s because the hotel cook is called Viktor, so maybe this is not coincidental at all, nor as insightful as I first thought it might be.

But that’s what comes through: how easy it is to ignore the bad or evil things around us; how easy to pretend that something essentially bad can be construed as being “for their own good”; how hard it is to stand up against what we know, deep inside us, is wrong.

This novel is a modern fable, allegory, call it what you will. It’s certainly a hard read, but it throws up age-old questions about trust, responsibility, speaking up, justice and injustice, and above all taking action when you can.

Steel yourself, and read it.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Cage 
by Lloyd Jones
Published by  Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143772323

Sarah Forster reviewed an event featuring Lloyd Jones at the NZ Festival Writers & Readers Festival – check it out here. 

 

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Book Review:On the Java Ridge, by Jock Serong

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_on_the_java_ridge.jpgThere’s something disturbingly satisfying about those rare novels that deliver an upper-cut to your gut. If you’re a masochist like me when it comes to novels, pick up On the Java Ridge.

Literary award-winning Jock Serong packs a punch on board the Java Ridge, an authentic Indonesian phinisi that ferries Australian tourists to remote surfing spots in the Savu Sea. Against the better judgement of Australian skipper Isi Natoli, a group of excited tourists plunge into the reef of uninhabited Dana Island, having spotted virgin surf. Outnumbered, Isi is forced to concede to the tourists’ demands for epic swells and anchors the Java Ridge in the island’s sheltered lagoon. After an idyllic afternoon among the waves, the group set up camp on the shore. With a tropical storm brewing to the north, they hope for a dry night ahead.

Hundreds of kilometres away, the Takalar has also set sail. On board is young Roya and her pregnant mother. They are now only an ocean away from the Promised Land, Australia, after fleeing persecution in Iraq. As the only survivors of their family, Roya, her mother, and her unborn sister have journeyed long and far in search of safety and a new life. Unbeknownst to both the Java Ridge skipper Isi Natoli and the asylum-seekers on board the Takalar, the notoriously refugee-unfriendly Australian government is on the eve of a general election and is relentless in preventing any last minute immigration scandals.

When the Takalar’s engine runs of its mounts and capsizes on the reef of tainted Dana Island, Roya and her mother come face to face with a watery reaper. Dozens lose their lives to the swirling Savu Sea. Yet despite the stormy skies Roya and her mother’s stars align, and they are pulled to safety by the Java Ridge’s skipper, Isi. Woken by the screams for help, identifiable in any language, the Australian tourists rescue as many people from the doomed Takalar as they can. A make-shift triage operation is set up on the island as the Takalar sinks to the ocean floor. Grappling with few supplies and needing urgent medical attention, Isi decides to load the Australians and asylum-seekers alike onto the Java Ridge and set sail for Australia.

Meanwhile in Canberra, the Minister for Border Integrity, Cassius Calvert, is beginning to make some ugly discoveries. Placed minister as a pawn, Cassius is self-absorbed and incompetent. The government has recently announced a new hard-line anti-asylum seeker policy that has the potential to cause public outcry. With the general election looming, it is vital that voters don’t scare. As Cassius starts to realise the grisly nature of the very policy he signed off on, his ineptitude proves him to be perfectly primed not to be able to prevent impending disaster. All the while, the Java Ridge chugs nearer.

Serong has a knack for creating characters the reader will invest in, and it is thanks to this skill that On the Java Ridge gets the reader eating out of the palm of one hand, and then delivers a sucker-punch with the other. Throughout the journey, we are subtly but expertly invited into the rationale of each character, resulting in some of the best understood and cared-for characters I’ve ever read (yes – even deplorable Cassius).

On the Java Ridge is a politically poignant thriller that is hugely relevant as developed nations grapple with the influx of uncontrolled migration. While certain governments draw international criticism on their hard-line immigration policies, there is a simultaneous rise in the popularity of notions such as those carried in the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome aimed against such policies. On the Java Ridge pushes readers to question how far their governments would go, and how far they would allow their governments to go in order to protect their borders. Serong’s novel is a timely reminder that we are all human, and just how easily we can lose touch with that shared identity.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

On the Java Ridge
by Jock Serong
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925498394