Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 27, 2010

Family Law (2010), by Benjamin Law

The Family LawBenjamin Law is apparently a senior contributor to Frankie Magazine but I suspect that he hankers to be a stand-up comedian.  This raw, rude miscellany of tales about his eccentric family would probably go over quite well in an inner-city pub filled with Gen X & Ys who’ve had a couple of wines and are in the mood to be amused.

I’m not sure that his family will find it quite so funny.  His parents, his mother in particular, may not be amused by having her gynecological history outed in such gratuitous detail.

Such qualms about privacy seem not to be shared by Law’s generation.  Alice Pung, one of his blurbers, found it ‘scatological, hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time’.  I remember feeling rather dismayed by the frank revelations about her family, especially the unresolved conflict with her mother, in Unpolished Gem.   At the Woodend Winter Arts Festival a year or so ago she admitted in conversation with Mary Delahunty that her mother hadn’t read it; risking your mother’s public embarrassment might be one of the perils of using family material in a book, eh?

But hey! this is the generation that tells all and fuddy-duddies like me who prefer a little discretion are probably past our use-by date…

The Family Law is light-hearted easy reading, and some of it really is droll (though some of the strong language is not for the prudish). I especially enjoyed the wry descriptions of his home state:

The Sunshine Coast hinterland is a haven for miserable theme parks.  In contrast to the Gold Coast’s pleasure domes (Dream World, Movie World, Sea World) which are show-offy and grand, garish and decadent, theme parks on the Sunshine Coast are poor-cousiny, half-a’d and afterthoughtish. Come to Superbee, where our prime attraction is free honey tasting! Also: you can buy honey! Look: here is a man dressed as a bee! Here at the Hedge Maze, get lost! In a hedge! We also have scones! (p46)

Raili Simojoki reviewed it here.

Update: 28 June 2010:

Thanks to Steph (see comments below) for this link to Richard Fidler’s Conversation with the author on the ABC; Law comes across as a lovely young man and explains that he is unabashed about ‘outing’ his mum because she does it herself with total strangers!

Update: May 19 2012
Wrong again, Lisa, there is much more to this young author than meets the eye from The Family Law.  Ben Law writes really smart non-fiction essays! See this one at the FIN.

Author: Benjamin Law
Title: The Family Law
Publisher: Black Inc 2010
ISBN: 9781863954785
Source: Review copy courtesy Black Inc Books.

Fishpond: The Family Law
Or direct from Black Inc Books The Family Law


  1. It worked extremely well on radio as an interview with ABC’s Richard Fidler last week: warmth, compassion, exquisite sensitivity, insight; and extremely funny. Of especial note was the explanation for why Law and his tribe of siblings had no cupboard space for their clothes in the house. And the conversation between an agonised and obviously emotionally conflicted 17 year old boy and his mother is profoundly moving.
    Life stories are always bound to upset someone. Let them write their own version, I say.


  2. What was the show, Steph? Maybe I can find the podcast?


  3. Here’s the link Lisa. Richard Fidler-Conversations-ABC Local Radio -‘local’ means all over the place.


  4. Thanks Steph…
    I was thinking about your comment about life stories while walking down to the library today, and it struck me that when writers are very young, (except in unusual circumstances) it’s often other people’s life stories that they pillage because they haven’t really lived enough of life to have enough material that’s really their own.
    There are exceptions, of course!


  5. Yes, I can see your point Lisa, but nevertheless an individual’s experience of life growing up does contain bits from the family lore as interpreted by and experienced by that child, and reflected on as an adult. Whether the adults around them saw life differently is sometimes included, but is often largely irrelevant to the person telling the story of their life from their perspective.

    The written work of Judith Lucy, Jenny Kee, Debbie Byrnes and Dawn French are good examples of people presenting their points of view, which would obviously differ greatly from the that of the key players in their lives.

    This difference reflects the difference between autobiography (individual perspective) and biography ( a number of perspectives).


    • Yes, yes of course…I haven’t read any of the authors you mention (I rarely read life stories, except those of authors and the occasional politician or historical figure who interests me) but there are also other examples of famous literary sisters (Brookner and Drabble, and Lily & Doris Brett) with very different POVs about their family history. And of course even biography can have a limited POV depending on what sources are used…


  6. An interesting review. Julie Myerson got in trouble over here last year by writing about terrible teenagers and focusing on her son. A very bad idea. He went public with his revulsion about his mother’s breach of his privacy and made quite a stir.


  7. How much to reveal about one’s own family has always been an issue, I think, even when it’s not explicit some family members recognise themselves and get cross.
    But what’s different now is the *extent* to which young people reveal everything about themselves – and seem to think it’s ok to include their family in this frankness as well. It will be interesting to see how it all ends up – I mean, once you’ve told everything, what’s left to tell?


  8. […] from Hong Kong, Benjamin Law wrote a comic miscellany of tales about his family from Hong Kong in Family Law, making humour out of the way their Chinese attitudes and customs seem eccentric in […]


  9. […] Alice Pung reveals unresolved conflict with her mother in Unpolished Gem.  But as I wrote in my review: this is the generation that tells all and fuddy-duddies like me who prefer a little discretion are […]


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