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Locust Girl: A Love Story, by Merlinda Bobis

December 23, 2016

Locust Girl: A Love Story, by Merlinda Bobis.  Spinifex Press (2016), 179 pages.

3 stars

An impressionistic novel set in a dry desert world full of wounded bodies and featuring a girl with a singing locust embedded on her forehead.

Merlinda Bobis was born in the Philippines and now lives and teaches in Australia.  The merit of her work has been widely recognized. Some of her early works were rather conventional, but with her acclaimed Fish Hair Woman she moved into a more experimental style.  Locust Girl moves further in this direction as she tells a story that stretches the boundary of rational thought into the poetic imagination.

As the setting for her story, Bobis has created a monochromatic desert world where everything, including the people, are brown.  Locust Girl, the central character and narrator of the book, emerges from a decade long burial to meet another young girl and the two of them set off to find “the border,” meeting a variety of wounded, oppressed people on their journey.  Slowly the reader and the characters remember events and songs.  The women are finally taken into the idyllic “Five Kingdoms” where water and trees are protected.  All the colors are present, especially green which they had not previously known.  But the leaders of the Kingdom protect this oasis by their rigid management of all the “strays” that exist out of the desert.

This is a lyrical book that others will probably appreciate more than I did.  It was simply too abstract and symbolic for me.  I cannot explain what the book “means,” only that I read it just after the US election and it seemed oddly appropriate. The “haves” do not understand or care about the “have-nots.”

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