Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 22, 2013

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, by Jane Rawson

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade ListsAs I said when I posted a Sensational Snippet about this book, Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is ‘a classic example of one where it’s better to keep going even if you’re completely confused and even a bit alienated from the characters’.  And I say this even though dystopian novels are among my least favourite genre of books to read.

Everyone in Melbourne remembers fires at the refineries in the western suburbs: in Rawson’s novel there has been a catastrophic explosion which has destroyed the city as we know it.  The rich, as ever, have survived, and their lifestyle and assets are protected.  The losers, the disenfranchised and the poor make shift as best they can.  And climate change has made everyday life unbearably hot.

Caddy has lost her husband, her home, her cat and her self-respect.  The world of economics as we know it has gone: the value of goods is a matter of what you can get for them, and that depends on how much money the buyer has been able to cadge.  For Caddie, that means bartering to borrow a phone to make a call.  It means never having more than small change for the day’s expenses.  Fresh water is at a premium, fresh food seems to be non-existent.  A bed for the night is where you can get it, and most often it’s some sort of humpy out-of-doors.  People who live like this have lost the concept of security along with everything else.  Stuff happens, things come and go, people don’t matter much.  It’s too hot to make much of a fuss about anything.

Ray is Caddie’s pimp and a racketeer.  He treats her better than she thinks she has a right to expect, and she’s grateful for ‘jobs’ that come with a comfortable bed, a meal and the chance of a hot shower.  But her grief gets her down every now and again, and one fateful day when things go even more horribly wrong, she throws away the story she’s been writing … and Rawson’s story becomes completely bizarre.

Ray acquires some maps which facilitate travel across time and space if he manipulates the creases.  He falls into a place called The Gap, where he discovers the Office of Unmade Lists  and another space called Suspended Imaginums, a place where the products of human imagination are suspended after we lose interest in them.   It is here that Ray meets Simon and Sarah from Caddie’s story, the one she threw away.  They seem remarkably real, even though their project is distinctly odd: They are homeless orphans whose parents set them the task of seeing America in 25 x 25 feet squares, and they are plodding their way through this quest with a completion date that extends beyond their lifespan.

Yes, it’s a very odd plot.  And until a certain point in the novel I found it altogether too bizarre and I almost lost interest in it.  But Caddie – lost, lonely, self-deprecating Caddie – trying so hard to live some kind of a meaningful life despite her bereavement and the horrible state of this future Melbourne in all its ghastliness, wouldn’t let me toss the book aside.

PS Congratulations to Peter Lo for one of the best cover designs I’ve seen.

Update:

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists was shortlisted for the 2013 Aurealis Award, and Ed Wright at The Australian has compared the novel to the early work of Paul Aster and the sheer storytelling joy that you find in Neil Gaiman. 

It’s the strand of the novel affiliated with Cervantes’ Don Quixote rather than the later work of the realists. Rawson has taken risks with plausibility and triumphed.

No wonder it’s rating 4 stars at GoodReads!

Author: Jane Rawson
Title:  A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists
Publisher: Transit Lounge, 2013
ISBN: 9781921924439
Review copy courtesy of Transit Lounge

 

Availability

Fishpond: A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists

Or direct from Transit Lounge


Responses

  1. Nice review, Lisa. The cover is definitely beautiful and I love the title too. I loved the page you had quoted in ‘Sensational Snippets’ and I was hoping that it would be a tragic love story. But now after reading your review, I am realizing that it is a dystopian novel. It does sound odd and bizarre and it looks like the reader has to persevere with it. I am not sure whether I would like to read it now, but I will keep an eye for it. Thanks for tempting me with that sensational snippet :)

    • I don’t read enough of them to know, but I think dystopian novels tend to be bizarre, and there’s usually a leap of belief that I find hard to make. But some novels transcend the credibility barrier. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one, and I think this, despite its flaws, is another.

  2. […] for the great review, […]

  3. I like odd and I love the title and the book cover. Will have to look for it.

  4. […] (BTW Jane has been featured at Meet an Aussie Author and has written a beaut, quirky novel called A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists so she knows what she’s talking about when she admires Nic’s […]

  5. […] at the Office of Unmade Lists, (another speculative fiction book I expected not to like, but did, see my review) reviewed it at […]

  6. […] Rawson, who wrote the acclaimed Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (see my review at https://anzlitlovers.com/2013/06/22/a-wrong-turn-at-the-office-of-unmade-lists-by-jane-rawson/), is just back from a three week stay at Varuna, the writers’ retreat. I’ll second what […]

  7. […] course.  (Jane Rawson is on the panel too, her novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unpaid Lists (see my review) won the 2014 Most Underrated Novel […]

  8. […] Lisa at ANZLitLovers also enjoyed the book. […]

  9. As a long time fan of fantasy and science fiction, it interests me to find that people who don’t read those genres seem to struggle a bit with this book.

    I found it very easy to follow and enjoyed it a lot, although I think it lost a bit of power towards the end – I haven’t quite figured out why, perhaps there was too much of a shift in pace and too much exposition whereas before there had been action.

    • Hello, and welcome:)
      Your point is well made – and that’s why I try to acknowledge it when I’m reading outside my comfort zone, IMO there’s no doubt that familiarity with genre is often a precondition to enjoying it. An obvious example is that familiarity with 19th century novels enhances enjoyment: many first time readers find themselves defeated by the different style of language and the way that words often had a different meaning then, and because they must necessarily focus on the surface features of language, they miss the wit, and don’t recognise or misinterpret the intention of the writer.
      There’s probably a PhD in exploring how the choice of favoured genres is derived!
      My experiences with fantasy and SF are limited because as a younger reader, I found little to interest me and so I diverged into other types of fiction. I liked H G Wells Invisible Man but couldn’t stand Jules Verne; and I read Asimov and thought it was silly. I don’t think I read any fantasy (unless you count Alice in Wonderland) until I came across Watership Down, (and I’m not sure that it would be counted as fantasy today).
      As you can see in my review, what interests me is character, and it’s character development – especially how characters develop in response to complex external circumstances – that fascinates me.

  10. Thanks for the welcome :) I guess I did leap in unannounced!

    Agree with you regarding comfort zone and it’s good that you flagged you were outside of yours. If I’d started with Jules Verne and H.G Wells I think it would be outside mine too! But i started as a child with Narnia & the Earthsea trilogy and never looked back.

    I will concede tho, that a lot of SF doesn’t appeal to me. I usually prefer books like this one that just bend the rules of reality a bit, to traditional swords and sorcery or space opera.

    • Ah, now, I read Narnia and the Earthsea Trilogy – and also A Wrinkle in Time when I was at university doing a Grad Dip in Children’s Literature. I liked all three, but I liked them as children’s books that I might use in my classroom. It did not occur to me that there was an adult genre that worked in the same way. Back in the library reading books of my own, I was romping through Trollope and Nevil Shute – strange choices when you consider that I was also reading any FemLit I could get my hands on (Greer, Simone de Beauvoir & Marilyn French et al). Maybe then if I’d known then about Margaret Atwood I might have steered in that direction, because I was bowled over by The Handmaid’s Tale when I eventually discovered it, but …well, until the internet, I was a bit of a flounderer in the library, I had no resources for finding books I might like, and I was a bit Blytonesque in tending to read all the books by one author until I’d exhausted the oeuvre. I did read widely through modernism and BritLit from the 17th century onwards in my BA and B Ed and I’m grateful for that – but I had no money to buy any other books and so it was a combination of reading books that others had chosen and haphazard choices in the library.
      I’ve read a couple of books that trace a person’s reading life and I am always amazed at how coherent they are, my reading has been a muddle for most of my life!

      • I have never heard of books that trace a person’s reading life, although I suppose I have read some of that by authors that I like.

        I was lucky in having an older brother who introduced me to The Hobbit and later Ursula Le Guin & other authors as I grew older. There was also a school librarian who lent me her personal copy of Lord of the RIngs.

        I share some of your experience though, because I also relied a lot on the library, as well as my parents’ books, so I read all kinds of things just because they were the only things available – there was really no such thing as ‘young adult’ novels back in the 70s when I was a teen, so it was more or less straight from Blyton to adult fiction. I remember struggling through Solzhenitsyn at around the age of 15!

        • Two books about the life of a reader that you might like are Ramona Koval’s memoir of reading, By the Book, a Reader’s Guide to Life, and The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford. You will probably have ah-ha! moments like I did, when I saw that I had read the same books as they had:)
          I loved the Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings even more. But when I think of fantasy I think more of books like Jean Auel’s (which I didn’t like at all) or Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, which I knew was very well written but still it didn’t hit the mark for me.

          • Thanks for the suggestions, I will look them up. I didn’t think much of Jean Auel and haven’t read Margo Lanagan.

            In the 70s & 80s I read Ursula Le Guin, Marion zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, & Anne McCaffrey, among others. They were all exploring issues to do with gender & sexuality & alternatives to patriarchy, which was interesting.

            I also like Australian writers Kate Forsyth & Cecelia D’Art Thornton, although the latter can be a bit overblown.

            There’s a lot of very good young adult stuff around – Garth Nix is one of my faves. More recently I’ve been getting into ‘future history’ by Kim Stanley Robinson – space exploration, climate change, biotechnology, full of interesting speculations about society’s responses to massive tech & scientific changes.

            • A wealth of books to choose from! If only we had some technology that enabled us to read more!

              • I know, I know, life’s too short.

  11. […] Gill, and two lovely authors reviewed here, Alice Robinson (Anchor Point) and Jane Rawson (A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists). Without exception they spoke with passion and authority about the issue.  For me, this session […]

  12. […] Refer also to previous reviews by Whispering Gums (here) and ANZ Lit Lovers (here). […]

  13. […] at the Office of Unmade Lists which won the 2014 Aurealis Award and the Most Underrated Book Award (see my review), and she’s just won the 2015 Seizure Prize for a macabre novella called Formaldehyde, so […]

  14. […] Rawson, author of A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (see my review and a Sensational […]

  15. […] just finished Jane Rawson’s award-winning A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (see my previous review and a Sensational Snippet) and I’m just about to start Alec Patric’s Black Rock White […]

  16. […] ANZ LitLovers LitBlog Book Review Readings Book Review Sydney Morning Herald Book Review Whispering Gums Book Review […]

  17. […] A Wrong Turn at The Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson, published by Transit Lounge (2014); (see my review) […]

  18. […] as I have said before, is a genius at characterisation of the sad, lonely and vulnerable.  I have used the female […]


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