Gunk Baby by Jamie Marina Lau
When I first picked up Jamie Marina Lau’s debut, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, back in 2019, I was instantly intrigued by the sparsely filled pages and short-prose structure. It was captivating; almost like reading poetry. Lau’s ability to weave a whole novel into only a few staccato sentences filled with emotive language and powerful adjectives made me fall in love with both the voice of her character and Lau herself as an author. I had never come across a book like it, distinct not only in subject matter but in its ability to ask the fundamental question, ‘what is a novel?’
So naturally when Gunk Baby was announced, I was not only excited to read Lau’s latest work but to again have my understanding of character, voice and form challenged. When I finally got my hands on the book after a year of waiting, I was surprised to see the format was that of any other novel and worried that Lau’s return to a conventional writing style indicated the loss of all that made her debut revolutionary.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Gunk Baby is a riveting story, told through the eyes of 24-year-old Leen, a young woman whose tumultuous past has left her with a fixation for shopping centres and their ubiquitous nature. Within one of these shopping centres Leen hopes to provide human connection and relief by opening a studio dedicated to healing, offering services such as massage, cupping and ear cleaning. However, Leen soon finds her ability to trust and connect with others challenged by the manipulation, pressure and consumerism inherent to her beloved shopping centre, and by extension, the world.
While this book does fit the traditional structure of a novel, Lau maintains her flowing prose and evocative language. Staying within the noir tradition of her previous book, Lau interweaves her characters’ mundane thoughts and wandering observations with harsh realities of violence and unresolved trauma. Gunk Baby is a beautifully unique novel which will be loved by both new and old fans of Lau’s work.