Black Sheep is author Ben Peek’s first full-length work, following on from his novella-length 26 Lies, One Truth, published earlier this year. Black Sheep, written before the shorter work but published later, deals with some of the same themes, notably racial conflict and questions of identity and individuality. It’s a more traditional work in form and narrative, focusing around the life and troubles of one man, Isao Dazai, as he struggles to come to terms with his place in the world.
There’s a clear critique operating here of contemporary Australian society, with its expectation that newcomers leave their cultural background at the door on entry. At the same time, the society presented in Black Sheep is a dystopia in its own right, and gives the feeling of a society which started in the author’s mind as a metaphor, but which burst into something broader and deeper when populated with real people.
This is a good thing, because rather than a black-and-white critique, which might have struggled to sustain interest at novel length, Peek uses the concepts to explore the grey areas, to present us with genuine moral and personal conflicts. The political metaphors are, perhaps, complicated and diluted by this greyness, but the complications give the novel a greater tension and momentum than it might have held as a simpler piece. The conflicts explored are sharpened and given focus by the conflicts within Isao’s own family, and consequently within himself.
Despite these reservations, Black Sheep is one of the more interesting novels I’ve read in recent times. The issues it touches on are very relevant, and explored intelligently and thoughtfully throughout. When Peek brings opposing ideologies into conflict via the various characters, he displays the ability to empathise and explore each side of the debate with care and insight. Equally, if not more interesting, are the conflicts the author explores within the protagonist himself. There are no easy answers given, no cheap tickets out of the personal moral dilemmas. It is perhaps the author’s courage to confront rather than shirk complication which ultimately makes the novel work.
As a novel, Black Sheep is flawed but insightful. If you would rather read a book which tackles difficult questions than one which delivers a safe format and subject matter, then you should pick up a copy, and check out a promising debut. There is food for thought contained in Black Sheep which will keep the reader occupied long after the book is done.
Pretty pleased with that review, since it was what I was going for when I wrote the book, and you can't ask for much more, really, when a reviewer is on the same page as you (so thanks, Ben Payne (benpayne)). Not that I don't mind reviewers on other pages. Anyhow, you can buy the book from Amazon or Galaxy Bookshop.