Review: Pink Mountain on Locust Island

Annie Zhang explores the strange, surreal emotional resonance of Pink Mountain

Artwork by Tanushri-Radha Saha

Pink Mountain on Locust Island reads like a fever dream or a drug-induced hallucination. Jamie Marina Lau presents a surreal, electronic parable that sweeps us through the confusing hell that is Monk’s life growing up in the digital age. Fifteen and living with a failed artist father in a Chinatown apartment, Monk becomes entranced with manicpixie-dream-boy Santa Coy. As his electrifying presence infects their lives, the novel accelerates into a trippy journey through a mishmash of art, angst, drugs, hunger and desire.

Notions of hunger and consumption abound in the novel. Monk starves for the attention of her father and Santa Coy, who in turn crave validation from the eyes of their audience. The pair churn out a stream of new and provocative content, but the attention one receives in the world of contemporary content creation is capricious and often short-lived. “Even emperors die,” Monk wryly observes. This hunger for something more—and the abject dissatisfaction that inevitably comes with it—is made all the more visceral by the descriptions of food that proliferate Pink Mountain. There is food being prepared, food being consumed, food neglected and congealing. Monk glacés a cake; Monk makes fish pasta; yum cha trolleys roll past stacked with dim sums; mould gathers in cereal bowls.

Lau’s prose is unique, full of dissonant turns of phrase and surreal images. Monk tells her story in snatched moments, ranging from a few sentences to a few pages in length. This choppy structure makes reading a bumpy, jarring experience as Monk navigates the liminal spaces between childhood and adulthood, English and Cantonese, inclusion and exclusion.

Some of Monk’s decisions steer the plot towards such extremities that the reader’s suspension of disbelief may be tested—but the exaggerated and often nature of the events align with the novel’s dreamlike, nihilistic overtones. Rather than searching for realism in the sense of verisimilitude, one can see the novel as an exercise in “emotion realism”—“even if at the level of content the treatment is unrealistic, what is recognised as real is truth to feeling.” This rings true for Pink Mountain, wherein Monk’s experiences give shape and dimension to universally resonant emotions of naivety, desperation, neglect, and, most of all, the hunger for validation and the desire to be seen.

Early in the book, Monk and Santa Coy discuss the nature of his art. Santa Coy envisions his art being shown in public spaces for all eyes to consume—Monk questions whether he’ll be forcing them to see it. “I ask him, would you look away if somebody was forcing you to look at their emotions?

He says, I’m here now aren’t I?”

To me, this is the heart of Pink Mountain. This book is Monk forcing us to confront the mire of her emotions, as grotesque, naive and messy as they may be. We validate them by reading on, and choosing not to look away.

This article appeared in the autonomous ACAR edition, ACAR Honi 2018.