Random Acts of Unkindness by Anna Mandoki

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

Melbourne in 2030 has changed into a city which many had predicted earlier in the century. Climate extremes, war, poverty and loneliness bring intense heat, frequent torrential rain, abandoned buildings; and, to the north, Indonesia in the grip of civil war. No longer does it qualify as “the world’s most liveable city”.

People doggedly cling to semblances of normalcy in an increasingly lonely city. Robots, driverless cars, power outages, unreliable transport all conjure up a depressing scenario, which underlines the appropriateness of the title Random Acts of Unkindness.

Ros, struggling to survive as a photographer, lives with her dog Sam in desperate circumstances, relying on Benefits, with the power cut off, and sometimes resorting to raiding the garbage bin outside a cafe for food.

Emily, a social scientist, is researching the effects of high density living with a multitude of laboratory rats. She hopes to extrapolate her results to the human condition, and despite anecdotal experience, perhaps establishing that there ARE advantages.  She runs a blog RAU (Random Acts of Unkindness) which addresses grievances. In one instance, an elderly lady suffered a gang of football hooligans using her garden as a urinal. Emily gives lengthy sympathetic advice, finally suggesting turning the hose on them.

Amala, student of Emily’s, is desperately homesick for her home in India. She augments her finances as the mistress of a wealthy businessman who gives her a flat, expensive clothes and gifts.

Daniel, her benefactor, is the father of Emily. The circle of connection is complete when we discover that Ros, in her continuing battle with abject poverty, regularly consults Emily’s blog, RAU.

Anna Mandoki, in her first novel, has produced an unforgettable picture of a sad society that is fractured and malfunctioning.

Citizens choke on heavy blankets of smoke from bushfires, trains are unreliable because of the constant breakdown of essential services, a terrorist attack occurs. Most taxies are driverless cars, abolishing the chance for a casual chat. Alienation increases as the number of robots grows.

Ros has the gift of clairvoyance. She appears to be able to predict disasters, with only minor details inaccurate. This offers an unusual quality of suspense as well as awareness of the burden this knowledge places on her.

Emily is following the hypothesis of the American psychologist, Calhoun. In his thought-provoking research, he hoped to demonstrate that high density living, in spite of some drawbacks, can encourage compassion and communication.  Descriptions of Emily’s work with the rats is fascinating.

Random Acts of Unkindness is a dark tale of a broken civic society occasionally lit by small kindnesses. Ros’ unselfish care for Sam is moving, but the theft of her electricity by the neighbour she has treated thoughtfully, is appallingly cruel.

There is an horrendous scene on a train, when Amala quietly attempts to champion a Muslin girl being tormented by drunken young men, with a shocking result. Her kindness and courage are shattered.

The most remarkable feature of the book is the skill with which Anna Mandoki controls the complex plot. The various characters are made real and distinct. Issues are treated with subtle power, and there is a clever balance between prophesy and current reality.

Anna Mandoki, an exciting new talent, now lives in Melbourne. Her degree in psychology enabled her to write a book that has depth, insight and empathy.

Hopefully these visions of future Melbourne offer a caution to take steps to avoid the bleak picture she depicts, or to act in order to ameliorate the effects.

I look forward to her next novel, being conscious of the difficulty in maintaining such a high standard. The spectre of the second book!

Random Acts of Unkindness

[2022]

by Anna Mandoki

MidnightSun Publishing

ISBN 978 098722 658 7

$29.99; 348pp

 

 

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