Gunk Baby by Jamie Marina Lau

Gunk Baby is a book about consumerism, capitalism, and class, as an ear-cleaning shop is opened in a shopping centre being taken over by a minimalist chain. Leen is twenty-four and just opening an ear-cleaning and massage shop in a shopping centre in Par Mars, a suburban land of housing estates. At the same time she meets Jean Paul, a disaffected guy working in a pharmacy who is obsessed with an online forum, and finds herself drawn into a community of people fighting back against consumerism and the managers in the shopping centres who they see as controlling it.

The vibe of Gunk Baby is if Fight Club was focused on the IKEA/Project Mayhem stuff and was also about a Chinese woman using her mother’s advice that Westerners love healing rituals. As with other books about disaffection and what is brewing underneath, not a huge amount happens for a lot of the book, other than Leen occasionally having clients, being involved with the anti-capitalist community, and getting closer to a guy who works in the chain minimalist shop that is taking over. However, it still has a lot of biting commentary running underneath, all cleverly brought together with the aesthetic of shopping centres, drugs, and whether to embrace or reject conformity.

You can almost hear strains of muzak and see the inside of a shopping centre at all times as you read this novel—that’s how well the atmosphere is created, a kind of hazy slightly unreal world whether or not the characters are actually inside one. It has a lot to say about orientalism and capitalism, and comes together in a satisfying way that you foresee, but that feels like the point. Gunk Baby is the sort of book that’ll be recommended if you like various ‘cult classics’, but it also feels fresh and clever.