The first I heard of this book was when it went on an Australian list of the ‘Most Underrated Books for 2014’, which began this year thanks to the Small Press Network. This award, says an article on The Conversation, seems set out to reward ‘off-beat, experimental and innovative books’ – ones that haven’t been quite as well-reviewed as they should have, but nonetheless deserve a wider audience. Soon after I finished the book, actually while I was at litcrawl in Wellington last month, I saw that it had in fact won this prize.
This is the debut novel of Jane Rawson, a news website editor from Melbourne. A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists begins in the future, in Melbourne, after a non-specified climate crisis which has left our heroine Caddy lonely, poor and desperate. She has no job, but is a struggling writer, scraping together money by batting her eyelashes at soldiers and being pimped out by her friend Ray to rich developers.
Ray is a wheeler and dealer – a survivor. He is well-off through his various underground business ventures, inasmuch as this is possible in a dystopian world. The twist in the tale begins when a peacekeeper sells him some very special maps. The first time he uses them, he is swept into a pseudo-Dickensian world called ‘The Gap’, which appears to be a beaurocratic world where Unmade Lists require an office, and things that have passed through people’s minds are stashed – in Suspended Imaginums (a suitably grim set of worlds are accessible there).
Rawson has skill in pushing the action along while filling in what you need to know about the world – following to the letter rule no 1 – show, don’t tell. A Wrong Turn plays with voice and genre, slipping around ably, something like a Jasper Fforde novel. When Ray meets Simon and Sarah, Sarah becomes the first person, because they are Caddy’s creations – or so we are led to believe.
This book is enjoyable and light-hearted, while addressing the question of what you would do to save your future if you knew exactly how bad it was destined to be. For me, the only weakness in the writing was in dialogue, specifically the snappy dialogue between Caddy and Ray. I felt the persona of Caddy was a bit too crazed, but perhaps I had just imagined her differently to her creator.
I agree with the panel in saying that this book deserves a wider audience. It is distinguished by its quality of production and its realistic dystopia. Well worth a read for those who know Melbourne or San Francisco well – it was my fascination with San Francisco that attracted my attention to the book.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists
by Jane Rawson
Published by Transit Lounge Publishing