A Scary New Way of Storytelling
Have you ever come across a book so unique you can’t really describe it? Michelle De Krester’s 2021 novel Scary Monsters is one of those books for me. It’s a novel which isn’t quite a novel and is pieced together unlike anything I’ve read before. These contribute to a very engaging read which is one of the weirdest I’ve read this year.
A Two in One Non-Horror Scary Novel
I’ll start with the extraterrestrial in the room. Scary Monsters is two stories in one, split up by flipping it around. And what you see below isn’t a printing error; this is how the book was made. It’s with this that you get two front covers on both sides of the book, rather than a blurb on the back. Instead, the blurb is on the inside and changes in hierarchy depending on what side you start.
The two stories are set in the past and the near future. The past story follows Lili, Lili is an Asian migrant from Australia, teaching English in France in the early 1980s. It’s while there she meets various people from all over the English-speaking world and witnesses the racism between the French and North African migrants.
The near-future story follows Lyle, a migrant from a Middle Eastern country living in a near future Melbourne. In this story, Islam is banned in Australia and the country is becoming increasingly globally isolated due to its non-existent climate policy.
Despite its name, Scary Monsters isn’t a horror novel, by the definitions of the genre. Although monsters is in the name, there are no grotesque creatures of the night that appear in these pages. Instead, the monsters appear in a very different form, a way only to be described by the next heading.
The Monsters of Racism and Identity
The scary monsters in Scary Monsters are in fact two very real and easily identifiable monsters, racism and identity. These themes are built from a lot of real-life issues when it comes to these monsters and how they are seen in society.
I will start with racism. In Lili’s story, there is a lot of references to the North African migrants from former French Africa mentioned. How we see it from her eyes, their treatment is horrific, despite the book being fictional. It’s part of that idea, I think, of the post-French Empire mentality of the 1980s. There’s that age-old mentality of superiority, as seen in colonial times, which is still present in society, but the empire is gone.
As for racism in Lyle’s story, this hits closer to home for me. The near future in here is what I can only describe as a “ScoMo* Utopia”. It’s a conformist society that likes to hide the past and previous identities, pretending it never happened. This is where we see the racism most prevalent; in the fact of Lyle and his family having to change themselves to fit into Australian society.
As a note too, it is funny how the people in this story have names like Fanta, Chanel and Sydney. It’s a quirky addition, but tragically links back to racism.
When it comes to identity, this is most powerful in Lyle’s story. It is shown in the idea of what is Australian. Some characters convey a sense of shame being Australian, considering its non-existent climate policy and the racism in society. This is further seen in terrible things that are common in Australia, like driving everywhere and classism in the workplace. The question too of ageing Australian’s identity in society is brought up in here too. One of the minor characters discusses about the uselessness of people over a certain age. This mere mention brought upon an all too familiar narrative in Australia today, especially with ageism in society.
As for Lili’s story, the idea of identity is similar. She’s from Australia but isn’t what was considered at the time Australian. There’s also the identity of the North African people in France questioned here. Where do they fit into French society and who are they if they’re not the so-called “normal” French? Following these too is the rampant sexism in society. It questions the idea of women in society and how they have been maltreated by men.
All of what I’ve gone through here is just scratching the top of what Scary Monsters is. This makes it no leisurely read, despite it having a narrative that flows. It’s also a book with no definitive plots in both stories. You just journey through these people’s lives and see their world with no real intense adventure in-between.
Michelle De Krester’s Scary Monsters is one of the most unusual books I’ve read this year. From its unique set-up to its plotless narrative, it’s not the sort of book I would recommend. Yet, it’s because of those points is why I am going to recommend it to you, dear reader. If you want a different read that is deeply complex but well written, check this out. What it does here is so effective and thought-provoking, that I struggle to keep this review brief.
Scary Monsters is available at all good bookstores and, if you’re lucky, at your local library.
*The common abbreviation for former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison