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BOOK REVIEW: Citizen Lipstick

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Dale Allen shares his thoughts on a novella by author Graham Jackson, part of his Alternate Reality series.

CITIZEN LIPSTICKby author Graham Jackson is a difficult book.

Not because it is hard to understand — it is not.

Not because it is difficult to follow — it is not.

Not because it is too long — at 150 pages, it is definitely not.

No, ‘Citizen Lipstick’ is one of those books that makes one reflect, as one is reading, what it is that makes a good book. I have often read books where I have been struck at the imagination that inspires an author. Wondered at their ability to generate often absurd unrealistic scenarios whilst at the same time inspiring me to suspend my disbelief and willingly join the author in his characters’ journey. Puzzled over the mysterious source of the tale being told. Envious even, at an ability as a storyteller that eludes me.

‘Citizen Lipstick’ inspired none of these reveries in me.

Set at an indeterminate time in the near future in a world struggling with the depredations of climate catastrophe, with populations moved by drought, flood and inundation. Ostensibly about a damaged young woman from a once-wealthy family fallen on hard times, the titular character is, in reality, a peripheral figure in this alternate existence.

How do we know it is an alternate reality? Simple — everyone is addressed with the honorific “Citizen” and the tipple of choice is laudanum. To drive the point home, there is a giant TV screen in a local park broadcasting the latest political propaganda from the nation’s leader, known universally as The Great Liar. Really? Really? Afraid so.

Well, if Lipstick is not the central character, who is? This is where we encounter some difficulty. We have a violent, thuggish, cat burgling rapist and his ostensible friend. His victim is a heart-of-gold “working girl”. A well-meaning country boy handyman and his twin sister. An avaricious landlady and her mildly resentful son. Throw in a group of ineffectual activists who meet and talk of nothing, having long forgotten what it was they had once railed against.

Yet none of these can be considered as central. Unfortunately, there is no centre. This is an unintentional tale of ennui where we get in excruciating detail the minutiae of each individual’s existence and learn to care not a jot about them or even what happens to them. Why should I, as a reader, feel any more for them than they do for themselves?

The society they inhabit is bankrupt, where everyone’s sole interest is themselves. There is not one character that invokes my sympathy as a reader, perhaps with the exception of one murder victim, but then that’s often the role of literary murder victims, isn’t it? As there are four murder victims and one suicide that is not a great sympathy-for-the-victim ratio. The ennui seeps from the page into the fingertips engulfing the reader’s body in a feeling of complete indifference to the fate of those being followed. The writing itself, whilst not sparkling, is not exactly wooden and is, perhaps, more the literary equivalent of dressed timber.

I should have been warned at the outset of the journey ahead by this being a self-published novel. There are, of course, many tales of hugely successful authors and books that first came to prominence through self-publishing. There are many more that did not and this is one of them. One of a series of five novels in Graham Jackson’s Alternate Reality series, ‘Citizen Lipstick’ does nothing to inspire me to dip my toe any further into his imagined reality.

I will admit that this book did inspire one revelation for me. As I persevered in my determined quest to finish this slip of a book, my mind occasionally wandered, sometimes inspired by the text, sometimes seeking relief from it. I was reminded of the curious fact that when a large number of people hear a cry for help and they know others have heard the cry, none will respond. Where one person alone hears the cry, they will be far more likely to offer assistance.

My revelation? Why are we as a community doing so little about climate change? We can all hear the cry, but we think someone else will respond.

Did I say at 150 pages this book was not too long? Mea culpa. I was wrong. At 150 pages, it is much too long.

Dale Allen is retired and lives in Emerald, Victoria.

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BOOK REVIEW: Citizen Lipstick

Dale Allen shares his thoughts on a novella by author Graham Jackson, part of his ...  
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