Awarded ‘Most Underrated Book’ of 2014, Jane Rawson’s debut novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists.
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists Synopsis
It is 1997 in San Francisco and Simon and Sarah have been sent on a quest to see America: they must stand at least once in every 25-foot square of the country. Decades later, in an Australian city that has fallen on hard times, Caddy is camped by the Maribyrnong River, living on small change from odd jobs, ersatz vodka and memories. She’s sick of being hot, dirty, broke and alone.
Caddy’s future changes shape when her friend, Ray, stumbles across some well-worn maps, including one of San Francisco, and their lives connect with those of teenagers Simon and Sarah in ways that are unexpected and profound.
A meditation on happiness – where and in what place and with who we can find our centre, a perceptive vision of where our world is headed, and a testament to the power of memory and imagination, this is the best of novels: both highly original and eminently readable.
‘A free-range and funny apocalyptic time-space road trip, with James M. Cain, J. G. Ballard, and Tom Robbins all fighting for the wheel.’ — Steven Amsterdam
(Transit Lounge, 2013)
Genre: Adventure, Literature, Mystery, Sci-Fi-Fantasy
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A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is a title that went on my reading wishlist the moment it was released back in 2013. So much about it spoke to me… the quirkiness and peculiarity of its nonsensical title, the mismatched puzzle map-grid cover and the mention of time-space travel. It’s a crime that it has languished on that list for so long. Rawson’s second novel From the Wreck was one of my best books of 2017, so I thought it appropriate that my ‘first read of 2018’ spot be filled by her debut work.
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is one of the most unusual novels I have read. Even Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications (with whom the author once worked) called it ‘a wacky Melbourne book‘. And yes the descriptor ‘wacky’ applies to both the Narnia-like storyline and the dystopian future version of Melbourne featured within it. Unfortunately, far less suspension of belief need be applied to the latter.
In this novel’s present day, society has been shaped by the ‘climate change disaster’ — floods, fire, drought, energy crises, drastic widening of the socio-economic divide. Caddy and Ray are survivors in a Melbourne now characterised by searing heat and the scarcity of clean water.
But the climate is not the only thing that is dry in A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, the humour woven into Rawson’s narrative is also wonderfully so.
Any fool could have told Ray not to try using the map again. Ray tried not to talk to fools too much. So on the Tuesday after he got back from his trip to The Gap, Ray packed up his maps again and headed out to Craigieburn.
While reading, this story exudes a humble looseness, an almost que sera, sera approach — but on reflection one realises that only the most talented in their craft can deliver performances that appear effortless.
A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is actually If on a winter’s night a traveller-esque in that the narrator overtly refers to (1) the writing craft, (2) the existence of both author and the characters they have created and (3) a tussle between those parties for narrative viewpoint. Confused yet? Just go with it… its all part of the fun.
Good-natured and entertaining banter of endearingly flawed characters is the means by which Rawson explores deeper themes — loss and bereavement, resilience and survival, and the power of the imagination and how that interacts with our perception of reality. Are our imaginations a product of our lives, or our lives a product of our imaginations?
Highly recommended to those who enjoy the most idiosyncratic of literature.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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About the Author, Jane Rawson
Jane Rawson has written a novel, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013), which won the Small Press Network’s 2014 ‘Most Underrated Book’ Award and was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel, a novella Formaldehyde (2015) and second novel From the Wreck (2017).
- Jane discussed the authors who’s work has inspired her (Douglas Adams, David Mitchell’s early titles, and Murakami) in an interview with Annabel Smith.
- She shares her writing routine and writing advice in an interview with Marisa Wikramanayake.
- Jane recently shared her top reads of 2017 with us for our book gift guide.