Book Review: Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

About the Book:

Michelle de Kretser’s electrifying take on scary monsters turns the novel upside down – just as migration has upended her characters’ lives.

Lili’s family migrated to Australia from Asia when she was a teenager. Now, in the 1980s, she’s teaching in the south of France. She makes friends, observes the treatment handed out to North African immigrants and is creeped out by her downstairs neighbour. All the while, Lili is striving to be A Bold, Intelligent Woman like Simone de Beauvoir.

Lyle works for a sinister government department in near-future Australia. An Asian migrant, he fears repatriation and embraces ‘Australian values’. He’s also preoccupied by his ambitious wife, his wayward children and his strong-minded elderly mother. Islam has been banned in the country, the air is smoky from a Permanent Fire Zone, and one pandemic has already run its course.

Three scary monsters – racism, misogyny and ageism – roam through this mesmerising novel. Its reversible format enacts the disorientation that migrants experience when changing countries changes the story of their lives. With this suspenseful, funny and profound book, Michelle de Kretser has made something thrilling and new.

Published by Allen & Unwin
Released October 2021

My Thoughts:

The structure of this novel was certainly interesting, although calling it a novel is a bit of a stretch. It’s more like two novellas, one set in the 1980s, another set in the future, both featuring Australian migrants. The novellas are bound into the book back to front and upside down with two different covers – intended to represent the upside-down feeling of migration.

I read Lili’s story first, set in France in the 1980s. I failed to become engaged at all with Lyle’s story and abandoned it after 50 pages. The three scary monsters – racism, misogyny, and ageism – were certainly evident throughout, so much so, I felt a little like I was being gas lighted. I have enjoyed Michelle de Kretser’s satire in the past but this time around it felt less humorous and more pointed and accusatory.

Unfortunately, my high expectations of this author were not met with Scary Monsters but I will continue to look forward to new work by Michelle de Kretser.


Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

  1. I can’t read her books. Questions of Travel put me off for good. I couldn’t understand why it had rave reviews and multiple awards. Scary Monsters sounds very similar. Like you, I could feel no empathy for the characters in the earlier book, and thought the two stories tenuously tied together. I also though it rambled on and needed a stiff edit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I summed up my read of this last year with “I enjoyed it but wasn’t wowed by it. In fact I probably got more out of the reviewing/researching process than the actual read.”
    Curiously, you fit my theory that those who start with Lili’s story enjoy the book far less than those who start with Lyle’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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