The Family Law. Benjamin Law.

The Family Law
by Benjamin Law
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: Asian, Australian Author, Autobiography Non-Fiction, Humourous, Memoir

There aren’t many books in the world that can talk about something utterly, and entirely, unbelieveably disgusting, and still make me laugh. I usually puke about these things. And believe me, when I say that there were some really disgusting things mentioned in this book–I mean really disgusting, all blood and gore without the blood and gore! because it had been turned into a joke. This whole book is one humourous situation after another, every chapter, there’s at least one joke, one line that’ll be bound to have the corner of your lips tugging upwards. I was definitely cracking up like a weirdo on my couch and on the train, and it was a good dose of well needed medicine. I haven’t laughed so much for so long. I think it helps that he has a sense of humour. If all autobiographies and memoirs were like this, then I would more likely read them. (Since I really don’t like how close to home autobiographies can get.)

However. WARNING. contained in this book are a number of scenes that make me never ever want to think about various things again. They are mentally scaring, and if you’re a person of visuals, who like to picture their next move, picture the scenes of what they’re reading in their head, have an awfully vivid, Not Safe For Work imagination, then you might want to reconsider reading this.


Because through this novel, predominantly at the start of the narrative, I learnt something about the birth of Benjamin Law and his siblings’ mother that I never ever want to read about it again. The thought of stitches and cutting, and well…to say anything more is mentally scarring, and to think his mother actually told Benjamin and his siblings about each birth….it makes me wonder, did that really happen?!? Either way, that was mentally scarring. Just as it was mentally scarring to get so deep into the mind of male–something I’ve never wanted to do, and hence have always avoided doing in literature because all I ever read when it comes to a male perspective–if written by a male writer–a lot of swearing, a lot of sex, and a lot of immoral yet totally natural thoughts, and when written by a female, all I get is blah blah blah, I have to have her! blah blah blah, the luscious curve of her breast, perky and just right for his hand…. or some crap like that–As you might have guessed, I rarely read fiction written from a male perspective, told well. And because of that, I generally swerve away from the curb of diversity and stick with female perspectives. One more reason why–at least from a female perspective–abhorrent, often shameless presumptuous thoughts of women are easier to handle than when reading from a male perspective about a guy who is putting up with all the crap that we women do sometimes. (I’m horrid, I know as a female, but I’ve read enough Twi-like-stories to drown me in a lifetime of wondering why females have to be so….that.) In short, I really, generally don’t like reading books from a male perspective. Because it confirms all the negative things that generalise the entire male population. But with this book, I actually don’t feel uncomfortable sitting in Benjamin Law’s mind and reading about his life. And this is not because he’s gay, because really, his thoughts and feelings were pretty much like that of any other guys, real and fictional. What made it so comfortable, was the humour. Which makes me think that in reality, he is a really funny guy. So this memoir gets points for not being boring, for having a humourous narrative voice, for having a main character who is likeable and relatable (On a side note, because memoirs are really not my thing, even if Mr Law is a real person, I really can’t call him anything else but a protagonist….then again he is a protagonist of his own story….which….oh never mind, clearly I’m not thinking straight! No wait…I know what this is, it’s the fact that this is a memoir, and because I don’t usually read them, I’m treating this like fiction even though this guy is a real life human being, and he has a book about his family ^^”).

Now. Onto the story itself. Like other autobios and memoirs, this book is a collection of well organised stories about Law’s life. It’s actually structured really well and it doesn’t feel awkward with the various time jumps from one period to another. I can see why he’s had so many essays published and is a freelance writer for various journals/media/etc. He knows how to begin and end, so that each chapter feels like a well balanced, well rounded story. If you look for a flow or connection between one chapter to another, you won’t find it. At the same time, for some authors, the flow of the whole book is broken sometimes by the jump between one chapter to another, but for Law’s book, it is almost flawless. I never once felt like I’d missed a whole lot of things in between. Law has a way with beginnings. He knows how to single out one event, narrate it, and then get to a point by the end of the chapter.

What was interesting in the whole telling is that Law doesn’t bring in the stories of his family’s past until the latter half of the novel. Now I’ve never really read any other memoirs (something I have to rectify asap before I can really give my opinion on it), but you can really see this story is the story of an Australian Born Asian. Even then, his parents’ pasts only play a small role in the whole book, only to give some colour to the various reasons why his parents does certain things. There are also stories about his relatives and how they came to work illegally in Australia, and how they were deported. But when it comes to the main story, the story of his family, this is also a story of Law’s experiences growing up. You see him deal with his identity–cultural and sexual–and how his family operates as a whole. The highlight of this little book for me, was seeing these childhood recollections of Benjamin Law. I am still partially in ignorance here about the reality of each and everyone of these experiences. I mean, they have been humourously retold for this memoir, with Law’s witty use of language, but man, I don’t know if I’ll ever believe these things had actually happened! Specially with the things that his mum says–who, admittedly, despite all her frank and vocal descriptions of birth, life, and death, is one of the most amusing people I’ve ever read about.

For me, this book, like Alice Pung’s book, was a very interesting, if but sometimes uncomfortable (because it’s not like I always read the stories about other Australian Borns who have a varied and ranged number of experiences growing up that I can and can’t relate to at the same time (and just to clarify, I wasn’t uncomfortable about Law’s experiences with his sexuality–that was actually really interesting, and cute too, I must say)). I would definitely recommend The Family Law as a suggestive read. BUT I also caution, for it is somewhat graphic, and there are some scenes which I wouldn’t recommend one read if they are uncomfortable with those sort of things–painfully unnecessarily gorey description of childbirths, gorey descriptions about the things that happen once a month, etc. and admittedly, in this book I see the frank and laidback voice that I would generally see in Australian novels featuring caucasian protagonists–stories which I usually hate reading (whether because it’s too close to home, literally and figuratively, or because I just find all the overdone expressions of reality so far from my own and seeming so exaggerated I just can’t help but hate it, but it’s not like I don’t try and read books like that. I just don’t like a lot of them, and of the ones I do, there’s probably a very familiar pattern or trend.)

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