When I was recommended this book by Allen & Unwin to review, I was pretty optimistic. As an Australian-Asian woman, it was awesome that I could read more books by female Australian-Asian authors like Jessie Tu and help promote their work, so a big thank you to Allen & Unwin for letting me do that. Let’s get into this review!
Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.
Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who bewitches her. Could this be love?
When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it – not even her indomitable mother.
A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing unflinchingly explores the confusion of having expectations upturned, and the awkwardness and pain of being human in our increasingly dislocated world – and how, in spite of all this, we still try to become the person we want to be. It is a dazzling, original and astounding debut from a young writer with a fierce, intelligent and fearless new voice.
A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing delved into many complex themes, so much so it was like I had to try to analyse the main character and investigate her issues to understand the plot of the story.
Jena used to be a child prodigy at the violin until her career ended abruptly at a performance when she was 15. This book begins as we see her try to get back into the classical music scene as an adult, and how her upbringing and early child prodigy life has affected her since.
It seems that with the pressure and detachment she experienced, she began using sex with strangers as a way to make herself feel better and to give her a sense of being wanted and having someone’s attention. Unfortunately, this lifestyle ends up creating toxic relationships and bad decisions. Bad decisions from her judgement being clouded by her constant desire for attention that began with her prodigy life as a way to feel valid and powerful, which then continued via meaningless sex with strangers instead of award-winning violin performances.
It feels more powerful to be desired than to desire. There’s safety in being wanted. No risk in being the desired. The last time I wanted something, I blew up the lives of two other people.Jessie Tu
The novel also explored the indirect and various forms of racism prominent in Australia as well as the feminist movement and how sexism has impacted the Arts industry.
This book was very hard to get into, particularly because Jessie Tu did not hold back. There are many graphic scenes, unapologetic thoughts and actions from the protagonist which made this book very difficult to read when I mainly read YA. The plot was quite hard for me to follow because other than Jena’s desire to get into the New York Philharmonic, the main direction of the text was her development as a woman that’s understanding her need for power and how she deals with shame.
Despite the difficult start and graphic scenes, it was actually quite easy to read this book in big chunks. I flew through the last 150 pages in one sitting, because after the introduction of Jena and after we begin to understand her full history and the context behind her actions, her character got more relatable and the plot had more direction.
The writing itself was great, it was easy to read and the chapters were short, however, the style of writing felt really detached from Jena. We could never really understand how she felt, but more read about what she did – an interesting case of telling and not showing, but somehow it worked because it read like poetry. The writing was poetic in the fact that it was jarring and complex while embodying all the important interpretations we should be deriving from it. I think I would’ve personally liked it if we could’ve gotten more emotional discourse so that I could connect more with Jena. This could’ve also made me more excited about the plot and what Jena was striving for.
As someone who has suffered from loneliness, this story also had an interesting take on what it means to be lonely. It was certainly thought-provoking and I contemplated many ideas after finishing this read, that shows how deep and insightful literature can be.
To be lonely is to want too much. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t mean you should let people hurt you.Jessie Tu
Overall, this book was more interesting than enjoyable, but still a standout for a debut adult novel and I would find it riveting to be able to discuss this at a book club. The complexities, narratives and societal representations in the cultural landscape of Australia are deeply important to read about, but not necessarily what everyone might be looking for. So, although it wouldn’t be something I’d pick up for entertainment, I would definitely recommend it.
What books do you think are very important but might not necessarily be fun to read? I can think of a few, especially as we continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Until next time,