Revenge and Murder. Both are found in this short novel, but they are not what drives this story. This is a story about family dynamics within a culture that is skewed towards male children. A narrative about how a male child is given almost a free ride through life, while his sister is not even offered a seat on the bus.
Yannie is sent flying through the air, thrown by Shan, her fourteen-year-old brother. She is not quite sure what she did to warrant this attack but hates the feeling of helplessness that comes with it. But what can she do, he is three years older and twice her weight? Yannie is ok; this is not the first and won’t be the last time physical violence has erupted between the siblings. Acceptance of this behaviour. and its lack of punishment, instilled long ago.
Yannie carries around a paper cutter with her at all times. But she would never use it would she? But why not? She imagines what it would be like to use it. Could she use it?
It is not only her brother that makes Yannie’s world unbearable. Her mother abuses her not only physically but verbally as well. Her father, with all his attention focussed on his son, seems to forget he even has a daughter.
Yannie is an exceptional student, top of her class. And yet, when it comes time for her to move on to university, her family has no money left, all of it gone to her brother Shan. The money that was for Yannie used for Shan to continue his studies at Oxford. Is this neglect towards Yannie because she is the second child, or the fact that she is a girl? Is it the parent’s fault for actions that are ingrained in the culture? An awful thought that geography, the place of your birth, can determine your education and life.
Skip ahead to the future and Shan has moved to Australia and is living a lucrative life, while Yannie is left at home working in the family’s little shop and ironically looking after her parents. And yet it’s not ironical. This is the culture; daughters have been staying home and looking after the parents for generations. Yannie is the anomaly.
The narrative moves at speed, perhaps a little too much speed. I believe that this book would have benefitted from a few more pages and more time devoted to the middle of the book. Shan is an integral character and yet I felt that I knew next to nothing about him. His history, his relationship with his wife and daughter who are also vital to the story.
Some interesting questions are posed towards the end of the book. If somebody in your family is committing illegal acts, what is your familial duty to that person? Do you do the right thing, the morally correct action and expose your sibling? How far would you be prepared to go to keep the secret? Without giving anything away, the ending of this book is a bit of a moral quagmire. Relationships between parent and child, brother and sister, are strained to breaking point, and you find yourself thinking what would I do in this situation? Revenge, Murder, well it is the title of the book.
S. L. Lim was born in Singapore, moved to Sydney at the age of one, and has spent a good part of her life toggling back and forth between the two places. After dropping out of law school she graduated with an economics degree and lived the life of a suit for a while before going freelance. Her manuscript, ‘Revenge’, published by Transit Lounge in 2020, was long-listed for the 2017 Epigram Fiction Prize, and is short-listed for the 2021 Stella Prize. She lived for a period in the Slovak Republic, hates injustice, compulsory heterosexuality and the state, and has two pet birds almost as old as she is. "Revenge" is her second novel.
Click on the photo to read an interview with Lim.
Real Differences is Lim's debut novel.