A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists

Jane Rawson

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists
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A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists

Jane Rawson

The winner of the Most Underrated Book of 2014

It is 1997 in San Francisco and Simon and Sarah have been sent on a quest to see America: they must stand at least once in every 25-foot square of the country. Decades later, in an Australian city that has fallen on hard times, Caddy is camped by the Maribyrnong River, living on small change from odd jobs, ersatz vodka and memories. She’s sick of being hot, dirty, broke and alone.

Caddy’s future changes shape when her friend, Ray, stumbles across some well-worn maps, including one of San Francisco, and their lives connect with those of teenagers Simon and Sarah in ways that are unexpected and profound.

A meditation on happiness - where and in what place and with who we can find our centre, a perceptive vision of where our world is headed, and a testament to the power of memory and imagination, this is the best of novels: both highly original and eminently readable.


Picture Melbourne in 2030 – what do you see? Jane Rawson paints a bleak picture. There’s a heatwave, clean water is hard to come by and disparity of wealth is rife. UN troops are a common sight and basic necessities like food and soap are expensive. The landscape is almost apocalyptic as you’re guided through it by Caddy.

As a narrator, Caddy is charming in her bluntness, living off the streets and getting by on what she can. She once had a husband, a home and a cat, before an explosion on the Maribyrnong River left her to fend for herself. Now, she sleeps in a humpy on the riverbank, living day to day. She has no perceivable goals for the future and spends most of her time dreaming of a different reality.

Jump back to 1997, San Francisco. Two kids, Sarah and Simon, have been sent to see America. Not just to see it, but to stand in every 25-foot square of the country.

Although the book deals with some pretty big ideas, Rawson manages to integrate them into an endearing narrative. Sustainability is one of the issues raised. 2030 is not that far away, but realistically what resources will still be readily available to us? Characters ask for water in a bar but realise beer will be cheaper. Caddy relies on drinking boiled river water, which isn’t clean but is the only source she has access to.

Playing with the idea of parallel universes and reality versus the imagination, the plot of this book is unpredictable, to say the least. This is Jane Rawson’s first novel. She is currently the section editor for environment and energy at The Conversation.

Ella Mittas is a freelance reviewer.

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