Allen & Unwin, Oct 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom
Set not very far into Australia’s future, UNDERGROUND opens in an
atmosphere of upheaval. Australia is in a permanent state of emergency,
and Canberra has been destroyed by a nuclear attack. Muslims are
incarcerated in ghettos that sound disturbingly like the Jewish ghettos of
the 1930s. Civil liberties and personal freedoms have been abandoned in
the name of a never-ending war on terror. Leo James, twin brother of the
Australian Prime Minister, is kidnapped by terrorists, rescued by the
Federal Police and then re-kidnapped by an Australian underground
resistance group called Oz Underground.
UNDERGROUND is McGahan’s fifth novel. One of his previous books, WHITE
EARTH, won the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. Described on the back cover as
the book that half of Australia has been waiting for, I wondered what on
earth McGahan was thinking of as he wrote this. Satire it is not, there
are holes in the plot that a jumbo jet could fly through and the end, when
it thankfully arrived, was an anti-climax. The story was clunky with no
continuity or flow. It is as if McGahan had all these political statements
that he wanted to make and made sure he got them all in. The ‘voice’ of
Leo really annoyed me - coming over as an aged man trying to talk hip hop.
The plot expects the reader to suspend belief at times. An example of this
is Leo’s first kidnapping at the very start of the book. Queensland is
being buffeted by the largest cyclone to ever hit Australia; a huge storm
surge is flooding the ground floor of the hotel Leo is staying in. A
postal van rocks up in the middle of the devastation and Leo is kidnapped.
The kidnappers then drive through the other half of the storm. Sorry,
would not, could not happen, and the ending was even sillier and more
unbelievable. And that is the main problem with the whole book - it isn’t
believable, it isn’t funny and it isn’t thrilling.
Nov 2006 review originally published on Murder & Mayhem
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