Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Black Sheep, the Angry Review

Tansy Rayner Roberts (cassiphone) reviews Black Sheep on ASif:

I loathed Black Sheep. It’s a long time since a book has made me this angry and frustrated. This is not to say it is a bad book, which it patently is not. Black Sheep is a very good book, which I found utterly horrifying to read.


The core event of the novel is Isao’s trial, in which he is convicted of multi-culturalism (ie of being Japanese while living in Australia) and is removed from his life and family. The concept of bring arrested for multiculturalism is quite brilliant, not to mention terrifying, and it is this that makes the novel feel so relevant. It’s just not hard to see Peek’s awful, Phillip-K-Dick-meets-1984 Australia being a natural extrapolation of our current government policies.

This week, the infamous “citizenship test” was officially introduced in Australia, and it seems like Black Sheep is particularly topical right now. I was raised in an Australia that promoted and celebrated multiculturalism (I remember writing an essay on the topic for a national competition at primary school) and I’m just baffled and appalled by the current Government attitude to - well, everything, quite frankly. But particularly our migration policies, which hark back to the old, shameful White Australia policy of decades ago. This is not the 21st century I want to be living in.

So, yes. Peek is pressing all the right buttons with Black Sheep, and reading it made me want to hit things.

The novel falls into three distinct acts: the sinister build up to Isao’s trial, the post-trial years, during which Isao receives a long course of brutal and intrusive mental conditioning, and the final act in which he finds a kind of peace with the country that has treated him so abominably. While the opening act is particularly chilling and evocative, and the third act a little flat and depressing, it is the more experimental prose of the middle act that really made this book stand out for me. We leave Phillip K Dick territory here and end up squarely in Brazil (with shades of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) as Isao suffers a complete mental and identity breakdown. Peek does not shy away from the intensity of this horrific experience, and it is here that his writing really comes into its own. I found it quite emotionally torturous to read, even as I was impressed with the effect of the language. This is not a book for the faint of heart, nor the mentally squeamish.

She sounds angry, doesn't she?

Well, she should, because like Tansy, I remember when multiculturalism was a thing promoted in this country, too, and diversity was something to be celebrated. These days, I don't feel that, and everything feels as if it's retreating into corners, and erecting walls, so that everyone is cut off from the other. Fear the other--some days I think that's what the world says to you.

Anyhow, with yesterday's name checking of of Atwood and Ishiguro, and today's with Dick and Gilliam, I'm not doing to bad with reviews, huh? I keep thinking people are going to miss what the book is about, what with the time it's taken to be released, and all of that, but it looks like that's not happening, at least if the last three reviews from it are to be taken as any indication. Which means we're all good, at least for the moment.

Buy it from Amazon, buy it from Galaxy.
Tags: blacksheep, review

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