Book Review: “Ida” by Alison Evans (#AWW2017 @_budgie @bonnierau)

 

Those who have read Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness (1969) would understand the effect of gender on culture and society. Not only is our civilisation dichotomised, but the binary “norms” of human relations, from our self-identification to our perception of others, also refrain us from exploring possibilities of fluidity.

Perhaps this is why some readers find it difficult to approach Alison Evans’ Ida (Echo/Bonnier Publishing, 2017). Set in different locations across Melbourne, it tells the story of coming-of-age Ida who is capable of shifting between parallel universes yet remains frustratingly unsure where to go and what to do with her life. Ida’s partner, Daisy, is genderqueer and uses the pronoun “they”. Those indulging in binary thinking may feel confused as they reach Page 14:

[The person who was knocking on the door] is Daisy and we’re hugging until I can’t breathe and we’ve lost where we end. The wind outside is cold, but Daisy smells like beaches and warmth. I put my hands on either side of their face and hold them like I can’t believe they’re really here. They’ve shaved the sides of their head, and the short hairs aren’t spiky like I thought they would be, but soft. They lean in to kiss me and their smooth lips are strong, familiar.

This use of the pronoun “they” throughout the book creates a sense of uncertainty, which in turn assists readers to comprehend the feeling of aimlessly struggling and drifting, of being constantly disconnected and dislocated, of being misunderstood, isolated and carelessly judged, that haunts Ida. By the time she realises it is not time travel but escaping that she does, that every alternative decision she makes creates a different version of reality and a separate shadow of herself, it seems already too late and the consequences too severe for her to bear.

In one’s attempt to understand Ida, the notion of “fixed points in time” and the consequences of attempting to disrupt or prevent them as discussed in Doctor Who may come to mind. Another interesting concept is time patrol, although, in the case of Ida, it is more about space-time, i.e. time is related to space and any discussion about time is meaningless without taking into consideration its impact on one or more physical dimensions.

In this sense, the characters Adrastos and Damaris become even more intriguing than illustrating different types of gender-fluidity, as the name “Adrastos” means “inescapable” or “non-fleeting” in the Greek language. Meanwhile, according to the New Testament, Damaris is a woman from Greece who embraced Christianity after hearing Paul’s speech in front of the Areopagus, the court for trying deliberate homicide in Athens. She may have been of high social status, a foreigner, or “an educated woman who provided companionship and intellectual stimulation to public figures”, as women of Athens back then would not likely have been present on such occasions.

While Ida may not be an easy read, those who persevere are rewarded with a brilliant story that reflects the reality of some of us who feel vulnerable and lost while trying to transition to the next stage of our life. Considering this universal theme, it may seem unnecessary to pinpoint Ida as being half-Asian or overweight, as she can be any and every one of us, who is afraid to but eventually learns to embrace who we are in order to fulfil our potentials. However hard it is to tackle the real and imagined obstacles in front of us, our salvation is knowing that we are not alone.

You can find more information about Alison Evans’ Ida here.

 

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