It’s been a long time since my last BEST BOOK EVER, but I’ve finally got a new one: Formaldehyde by Melbourne author Jane Rawson.
Formaldehyde has been on my TBR list for a while and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to it (probably because my budget doesn’t stretch to many new books these days). I bumped into Jane recently at a friend’s book launch and felt guilty for not having read Formaldehyde, and when I saw it on the table for only $14.99, I splurged.
This little book (it’s a novella) blew me away. Magic realism is probably too old-fashioned a term to apply to such a modern story, which I think defies labelling. It crosses genres as well as times from 2000 to 2022 with its clever structure.
It kicks off with what seems like a Kafkaesque bureaucratic bungle at the Identity Office, which is hilariously similar to Centrelink. The story covers love, loss, severed limbs and impossible pregnancies. Surprising, shocking, heartwarming, heartbreaking, insightful, absurd … just wonderful. So original. And so well-written. It made me think at the same time of The Lost Thing (Shaun Tan’s picture book) and The Picture of Dorian Gray!
“I want to see you. I want to see you so bad. Like acid reflux, this constant aching in my solar plexus from the wanting of you. Like swallowing a corn chip the wrong way down, but to the power of five; like my trachea has been stuffed with hessian.” p49
“The guy next to me in the line is dressed like a Vietnam vet: dark blue bomber jacket with some sort of schizophrenic pro-and-anti-American patch sewn on it, torn jeans, bandana, aviator sunglasses — just the right age. Apparently a homeless Vietnam vet: he’s covered in grime, his teeth are brown and sparse and he has a vague odour — that strange smell of stale socks and old snot common to teenage boys.” p59
“And every single day, without fail, he would look out the doors when the elevator stopped at the third floor, glance up the corridor, just in case. And when she wasn’t there, which was every time, he would paste a memory of her over whatever was happening in front of his eyes, stick her to the scene like fuzzy-felt.” p98
Formaldehyde delighted, surprised and inspired me as both a reader and writer. You have to read it! You can buy a copy from Seizure.
I’m off to read A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists now.