Fiction – Kindle edition; Transit Lounge; 199 pages; 2020.
Despite the title, S.L. Lim’s Revenge: Murder in Three Parts is not a crime novel. Instead, it’s a beguiling tale of a Malaysian woman who finds herself on the wrong side of the gender divide, constantly overlooked by her parents in favour of her older brother, who is given all the advantages and manages to make something of himself, first in the UK, then later in Australia.
As the only daughter, Yannie must give up any hope of attending university (despite being an excellent student), to help run the family’s corner store. Later, after her parents retire, she reinvents herself as a personal tutor to pay the bills and support them in their old age.
It’s not until her mother’s death that she finally has the opportunity to go abroad to visit her brother and his family in Sydney, Australia, and it is this change of scenery that gives Yannie pause to reflect.
Outwardly, Yannie is passive, polite and pliable, but inwardly she’s full of rage, (understandably) angry at the opportunities denied to her. Her rich interior life, in which she imagines living with Shuying, her schoolgirl crush, is the only thing that seems to sustain her.
Her life, dictated by others close to her (and society in general) means that she has not been able to follow her dreams, nor live her most authentic life. Her physical impoverishment has only been matched by her spiritual impoverishment.
When she moves in with her brother Shan, she begins to see the abuse he once doled out to her as a child (and which her parents ignored) has now manifested in coercive control of his wife and teenage daughter, with occasional temper tantrums and angry outbursts that everyone seems to shrug off as if they never happened.
During her stay, Yannie grows close to both her sister-in-law Evelyn and niece Kat, whom she tutors, but can’t quite get her head around the fact that both have become beholden not only to her psychopathic brother but the money he earns and the extravagant lifestyle which he provides them.
When a seemingly innocuous opportunity for revenge presents itself, Yannie grabs it — but the consequences aren’t quite what one would expect.
Revenge: Murder in Three Parts is a powerful story about women’s inequality, domestic abuse, impoverishment and the struggle to live your most authentic life. And it asks important questions about revenge, guilt — and redemption.
For other reviews of this book, please see Lisa’s review at ANZLitLovers and Kate’s review at Booksaremyfavouriteand best.
Revenge: Murder in Three Parts has been shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize.
I read this one as part of my attempt to read all the book’s on this year’s Stella Prize shortlist. it is also my 8th book for #AWW2021.
13 thoughts on “‘Revenge: Murder in Three Parts’ by S.L. Lim”
Thanks for the mention, Kim:)
It was an unsettling book, I thought.
I don’t know how I missed your review when you initially posted it, but I suspect it’s because I was on hols at the time and not doing much digital stuff.
Yes, I really liked this. It had the feel of translated fiction and was a more grown-up (and deadly) version of ‘Kim Ji-young, Born 1982’
So I’ve just learnt that one shouldn’t judge a book by its title!
Exactly! There is a murder, but that’s not the sole focus of the book.
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Sounds very heavy and powerful.
Funnily enough, it’s not heavy. It’s written with a lightness of touch, and Yannie has a good sense of humour so even though she’s bitter and angry she internalises it all. The relationship she develops with her niece is very touching.
I read the other reviews. Lisa says there is an audiobook out so hopefully I will run across it. I don’t know what to say when I read about people leading such restricted lives. Yannie ‘chooses’ to be a dutiful daughter, as so many women in traditional settings seem to do. I guess that’s the obverse of our excessive individualism in the neo-liberal west.
Well, they don’t “choose” because they have no choice. Just like women in domestic violence situations in the west. Most don’t have the choice to leave because they don’t have anywhere to go / no finances / no self esteem / no resilience et etc. I can’t stand it when I hear people say “why didn’t she leave?” Why don’t they ask “ why didn’t he stop?”