There is a definite Kafkaesque air to Allington’s writing, as well as echoes of 1984 and Brave New World. Yet this novel is less one of nightmarish bureaucracy than oppression with a veneer of cheer. “I’m so sorry about this, truly I am,” a police officer says as he gags and arrests a woman. “A necessary precaution, but I do apologise.” Such eerie politeness, in tandem with omnipresent surveillance and state-sanctioned kidnappings, gives the book a unique, disquieting tone.
Allington’s debut, the Miles Franklin award–longlisted Figurehead (2009), unpacked murky moral complexities in its retelling of Cambodia’s political history. Rise & Shine has a similar flavour, offering a gestalt view of a city-state told from the perspectives of civilians and political elite alike. Some prickly truths regarding power emerge. The citizens of Rise and Shine yearn for agency yet also a leader to guide the way. For those who govern, controlling the people seems the only way of serving the people. Fighting for peace easily becomes starting a war.
Some of the book’s minor reflections are potently relatable – “It was hard to be productive while mourning the world” – as are its broader condemnations of environmental collapse. It arrives on the crest of a wave of climate fiction – or cli-fi, as coined by Dan Bloom – that encompasses such notable works as James Bradley’s recent Ghost Species, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book and the poetry of Eunice Andrada’s Flood Damages. Allington doesn’t mince words. The Pacific Islands, “once home to many thousands of people, to coconut groves, to rainforests”, are now subsumed by a “murky grey sludge”. The people of the Old Time weren’t “stupid on the whole”, but they were “malignantly complacent”.
The dialogue is one of the great strengths of Rise & Shine: buoyantly paced, drolly comic and easily absorbing. However, it comprises most of the book, and the lack of world creation eventually manifests a sense of detachment, weakening what could have been a devastating final punch. Additionally, Allington’s potpourri of characters – some of whom are lively and engaging – aren’t given enough space to breathe, their impression upon the reader diluted by the book’s brevity. One wishes the book were longer; an observation hopefully taken as a compliment.
Despite these minor flaws, Rise & Shine is apt reading for our current atmosphere of environmental, societal and economic precarity. It is an undeniably imaginative and engrossing fable. A stark reminder, too, that with each new “unprecedented” disaster, each political upheaval, we are shifting ever closer to certain dystopic realms of fiction.
Jack Callil is a Melbourne writer and editor. He is assistant editor at Australian Book Review. Twitter: @Jack_Callil