All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

on August 6, 2019

Too Much Lip
Melissa Lucashenko
2018, 318p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Too much lip, her old problem from way back. And the older she got, the harder it seemed to get to swallow her opinions. The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.

Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.

Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people. Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.

Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seems possible.

I always have more books a month than I can read and there are some I just don’t get to, even when I really want to. They go on a bookcase in my bedroom for those times when I feel like dipping back into the pile. This book was in that pile…..I decided it would be perfect for my Reading Women Challenge, for the book by an indigenous woman prompt. Melissa Lucashenko is a Goorie author from the Bundjalung people. And the day I finished this, it was later announced as the winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award. I had read only one of the longlist, during my attempts to read the Stella Prize Longlist. Quite often I’ll read as much of a longlist or shortlist as I can, only for the winner to be one of the few texts (or the only) I’ve yet to read. So I was pretty thrilled with my timing reading this!

Kerry Salter has avoided her childhood home for a while now. Deep in the bush in northern NSW, she’s returning because the family patriarch, her Pop, is dying. And it’s probably a good time for Kerry to get away from QLD anyway. With her girlfriend just banged up for a bank robbery gone wrong, Kerry has avoided jail but there’s warrants out. It’s a good time to lie low. But when she gets home, it’s a reminder of all the reasons why she spends so much time away. There’s Ken, her older brother. Bitter and with anger management issues, Kerry judges the distance to keep from Ken and what remarks she can get away with by what he’s had to drink and how many. There’s Pretty Mary, her mother who supplements a government income telling fortunes at local markets and reading tarot cards. There’s Ken’s teenage son, a shadow of his former self hiding out in his room playing video games and avoiding his father’s rage. Black Superman is Kerry’s younger brother, who escaped as well but made good with his public sector job and city apartment he’s paying a mortgage on. And then there’s various other family members including Richard, Pretty Mary’s brother and the local family elder who arrives in and out to dispense advice and keep the struggling crew together. Everything is overshadowed by the disappearance of Kerry’s sister Donna as a teenager a couple of decades ago.

This is a raw story of a family in all its dysfunction. It’s dark and quite brutal in parts, balanced out by humour and astute observations in other parts. Kerry is a snappy narrator, told from the time she was young that she’s always had ‘too much lip – that’s her problem’. Even now as a woman in her 30s she finds it hard to keep quiet, even when she should avoid provoking Ken, her brother who is liable to break her face in retaliation. Kerry and her family have different struggles and problems but they all share a strong connection to their local area. And when they discover that the local mayor and property developer extraordinaire wants to hock a piece of land along their beloved river, the siblings and extended family are swung into action. The river belongs to them, it’s connected to their family and has been for generations, a powerful part of their history and way of life.

It’s easy to want them to succeed in their quest. They’re a family that’s had their troubles and those troubles continue throughout the book as there are several surprising and very painful reveals that rock the family on its foundations. But their pride in the culture is strong, their knowledge of their history and their connection to each other and the land. Kerry has some unusual methods in the fight….but once again, it’s hard not to cheer her on! They’re up against someone who doesn’t play by the rules either and there’s been generations of injustices done to their family and this is almost like revenge on everything and everyone all at once. Although fictional, Lucashenko does state in an acknowledgement at the back of the book that almost all of the incidents or violence she included happened to people in real life within her extended family. The others she drew from Aboriginal history or oral record. It’s confronting and very traumatic in places, the reader is exposed to the grief and horror of the characters as they are, struggling to reshape a narrative and fit new pieces together of a story that changes everything about their family.

Lucashenko weaves a troubled family history, land rights and Indigenous connection to their ancestral homes and strength of family, forgiveness and acceptance of past wrongs in this highly engaging story rich with detail and Indigenous language. I enjoyed the family coming together in times of need and that even though there was great pain, they were able to still get through it and connect in new ways. I haven’t read any of the other books listed as I mentioned earlier but this one does feel a worthy winner of a literary award.


Book #117 of 2019

Too Much Lip is book #54 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2019

Too Much Lip was read as part of my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019. It counts towards prompt #16 – by an Indigenous woman. It’s the 10th book read for the challenge out of (hopefully) 26.

One response to “Review: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

  1. […] By an Indigenous woman – Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko. My review. […]

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