A profoundly original exploration of racism, misogyny, and ageism—three monsters that plague the world—this novel from a beloved and prize-winning author is made up of two narratives, each told by a South Asian migrant to Australia
“When my family emigrated it felt as if we’d been stood on our heads.”
Michelle de Kretser’s electrifying take on scary monsters turns the novel upside down, just as migration has upended her characters’ lives.
Lili’s family migrated to Australia from Asia when she was a teenager. Now, in the 1980s, she’s teaching in the south of France. She makes friends, observes the treatment handed out to North African immigrants, and is creeped out by her downstairs neighbor. All the while, Lili is striving to be A Bold, Intelligent Woman like Simone de Beauvoir.
Lyle works for a sinister government department in near-future Australia. An Asian migrant, he fears repatriation and embraces “Australian values.” He’s also preoccupied by his ambitious wife, his wayward children, and his strong-minded elderly mother. Islam has been banned in the country, the air is smoky from a Permanent Fire Zone, and one pandemic has already run its course.
Three scary monsters—racism, misogyny, and ageism—roam through this mesmerizing novel. Its reversible format enacts the disorientation that migrants experience when changing countries changes the stories of their lives. With this suspenseful, funny, and profound book, Michelle de Kretser has made something thrilling and new.
“Which comes first, the future or the past?”
About the Author
Michelle De Kretser was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her family emigrated to Australia when she was a teenager, and she was educated in Melbourne and Paris. She is the author of five previous novels, including the Miles Franklin Award winners Questions of Travel and The Life to Come, the Man Booker Prize long-listed The Lost Dog, and a novella, Springtime. De Kretser now lives in Sydney with her partner, the poet and translator Chris Andrews. She is an honorary associate of the English department at the University of Sydney.
Finalist for the 2022 Kirkus Prize for Fiction Shortlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award Longlisted for the 2022 Gordon Burn Prize (UK) A NYLON Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"What seem on the face to be two very different stories, but whose power lies in the imaginative work the reader has to do to link them, to find clues to the future in the past. It's a brilliant use of negative space, and contributes to the lasting power of this fine and stereoscopic contemplation of the migrant experience." —Alex Preston, The New York Times Book Review
"I read Scary Monsters months ago and can't stop thinking about it. This is a bold, unsettling and beautifully written work." —Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven "Michelle de Kretser's brilliant split-form past-and-present dual narrative, Scary Monsters . . . about perilous times and societal and institutional forms of exclusion, what it does to the human spirit, and how that pressure reforms us." —Ali Smith, The Guardian "Dual narrative looks at the racism and terrifying experiences into which the 'outsider' is thrown . . . What lingers in the mind . . . are the connections she makes between past prejudices and a future society devoid of values or compassion." —Lucy Popescu, The Financial Times (UK) "Magnificent . . . A carefully constructed pattern of thematic echoes . . . . [both] stories are filled with unexpected details, apt quick literary brushstrokes and the gleam of humor . . . Terrific." —Sam Leith, The Daily Telegraph "The tales are engrossing . . . It’s a powerful portrait of feeling adrift in a hostile environment, suffused with stabs of beautiful description." —Siobhan Murphy, The Times "Language is not benign in Scary Monsters. It is the sanitization of language that enables this society to enact violence on its most vulnerable. The sweep of de Kretser's critique here includes us all." —Gretchen Shrim, The Australian
"In yet another masterful work, de Kretser has pulled out her recipe book and remixed her ingredients into a strong, hallucinatory brew that might make us taste fear and anger before it’s too late.” —Susan Wyndham, Sydney Morning Herald
"De Kretser [is] one of our most acute chroniclers of migrant experience, and a savage critic of white Australian complacency." —Geordie Williamson, The Saturday Paper
"The range and verbal pleasures of de Kretser’s considerable gifts are compelling . . . What unfolds, rife with dark irony worthy of George Saunders, is as banal as it is horrific. De Kretser is a wonderful writer, and woefully underrated in this country. Though her skewering satire is pointed and painful, her gallows humor keeps the reader smiling." —Claire Messud, Harper's
"Scary Monsters is a provocative and exhilarating game of snakes and ladders." —Fiona Gruber, The Times Literary Supplement
"Scary Monsters will resonate most with humans who enjoy a well-told-tale, especially post-modern feminists with a penchant for literary intertextuality." —Nanci Nott, ArtsHub
"To read Michelle de Kretser's fiction is to sense important details swimming under the surface of our awareness . . . For readers of this novel, the implicit task is to make a seemingly fractured story whole, to locate or construct points of connection between parallel worlds, to warm the pages with our close and imaginative engagement. There is an implied moral dimension to this challenge, but the ultimate result is our readerly delight." —Shannon Burns, Australian Book Review
"De Kretser's cutting wit and dexterous ability to dismantle Australia's rose-tinted idea of itself makes this an inventive, satirical and confronting exploration of the migrant experience. Scary Monsters is sure to hold strong appeal for literary fiction readers." —Carody Culver, Books + Publishing
"Wrenchingly poignant, brilliantly biting, de Kretser provides an indelible, ageless examination of the migrant experience." —Booklist (starred review)
"De Kretser, one of our most deeply intelligent writers, offers a book that is wry and heartbreaking, playful and profound." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A disturbing and entirely believable depiction of social upheaval and repression . . . A stirring look at the eerie links between past and present." —Publishers Weekly
"In Scary Monsters de Kretser addresses the weightiest of subjects with the lightest and deftest of touches, and the result is funny, playful, painful, angry, and, above all, ferociously smart. It's a dazzling novel, by a hugely talented author." —Sarah Waters
"Scary Monsters is a novel of luminous intelligence and profound depth, written with verve, humor, and exceptional elegance." —Monica Ali
"Scary Monsters is a marvel. Each of the two very different parts of the novel had me totally riveted, intensely absorbed, wowed by de Kretser's scathing accuracy––whether she's chronicling youth's delights and distortions or a future where prosperity is the new 'unethics.' It's a wildly remarkable book that unfolds like no other." —Joan Silber, author of Secrets of Happiness and Improvement