Review Blog

Jun 11 2018

MunMun by Jesse Andrews

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Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760523596
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. From the opening chapter, in its enigmatically entitled 'LifeandDeathWorld, Prayer', Jesse Andrews plunges the reader into a strangely dystopian world. Andrews plunges into a reality that is actually full of terrible iniquities and compromising levels of power, where a large amount of money and power brings riches and enables people to undergo a change to increasingly larger size, and with a loss of power reduced to its opposite, utter powerlessness, brings the tiniest creatures of all, the 'littlepoor'. Shape and size reflect wealth and poverty, categorized for us clearly on the inside cover of the novel. Plato, Geoffrey Chaucer, George Orwell, Dr Seuss, Joseph Keller, and Ray Bradbury wrote with a similar purpose, warning us of what they found amiss in their own times.
When Jonathan Swift wrote, "Nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison" in Gulliver's Travels, we were introduced to his notion of a world at risk in his strangely peopled world. Andrews has chosen Swift's words to preface his work, MunMun, and his depiction of a notion of size and scale, that relate directly to power, is clearly at the heart of his construction of story, place and time. We discover immediately that characters in this novel can be almost as small as an acorn and can grow in importance, that is, having the money and power to 'upscale', to being as large as doublescale, or as 'Bigrich", even enabling a transformation to almost absolute power - where a character might be 'transformed' - to be as tall as a skyscraper. Of course, they can be scaled down or even be forced to return to minute size under certain conditions. In fact they can be any shape or size or colour, such as Prayer, who has "ruby wine skin" with a head "narrow and shaped like a bean".
Characters might live in different places, yet both place and character appear to float in time and space, and characters might take themselves to places where they feel comfortable or visit unsettling places. We understand that in 'dreamworld', characters might create dreams that can be shared or tap into the dreamworlds of others, but in this particular world everyone is 'exactly middlescale' and everyone is safe. Here people are free to create anything that they desire, such as making a 'pool out of cloud'. In "lifeanddeathworld" characters are fearful of the dangers. Irony is at play here, as surely these worlds reflect our own world just as it is, even undiscovered: a series of planets, moons and suns all floating in space.
At the heart of all his worlds "Mun mun" dominates people's lives and his warning, through analogy, is clear. His chilling stories, the harsh worlds of his characters, and their fate, are a clarion call to us to be aware of some of the worst aspects of our world. Words and phrases are frequently suggestive of our world, reflected in its enigmatic nature. The seductive lyricism of this novel, and its powerful suggestions deeply underlie its political intent: as we read of people who are 'middlepoor", we are surely expected to consider what Andrews is suggesting.
There is a hint of a thread of kindness and goodness that is depicted strongly in the central character and his family, particularly in the religious beliefs and loving kindness of the mother, who believes in the "Lord King God" and old-fashioned religion, and whose gentle soul does not tap into the terrifying world that is at the heart of this novel. Whom can you trust? There are good people, there is loving and there is kindness, but mostly there is fear and rivalry and powerlessness that threaten all who try to survive their 'little lives'.
Satirical, fast-paced, and at times terribly violent, with many people showing almost no concern for the wellbeing of anyone outside of their own body type, the characters of Andrews' novel are distorted to reflect his purpose. The biting humour, deep sarcasm and pervasive fear would seem also to reflect our modern world. Exposing his characters' dread of the power of 'the other', he creates those 'huge' people who must be respected and obeyed, and the reference is clear. We are led gently but firmly to consider power that controls and often that destroys others, and to be aware of the ever-present threat of a world of dark and terrible violence.
Elizabeth Bondar

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