Best of TLB Online 2017: Review of Books

Summer hols are just around the corner. If you're trying to figure out which books to pick up, and which to avoid, we at TLB Online might be able to help.
We've compiled a list of the most exciting, memorable and contentious pieces from the TLB Review of Books in 2017. This year has seen an exciting array of reviews, across a bunch of innovative genres. (Shout out to Jini Maxwell for writing our first review in hypertext; the future is here and it contains drawings of bin chickens.)
Narrowing these incomparable reviews down to a shortlist was challenging. We've picked the ten that we think best represent the huge stylistic and formal range we've seen this year in our reviews.

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Best of TLB Online 2017: Commentary

2017 is moseying on out so it's just about time for the TLB Online team to take our short holiday break. But before we do, we'd like to look back one last time at the incredible work we've published this year.

We asked our online editors to nominate their very favourite commentary pieces and series of the year and whittled them down to a mean, lean list of thirteen.

These gems will help you stave off holiday boredom for a little while at least. But if you burn through them – and who could blame you? – you can check out our commentary page or search our archive for more incredible articles.

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‘And If the Hare Was Made of Myths Then so Too Was the Land at which She Scratched: A Review of Fiona Mozley’s “Elmet”’ by Rachel Wilson

When we were still young children, my brother and I spent our holidays in Yorkshire, where my parents would rent a holiday cottage and take us on long walks in the countryside. As most childhood memories are, my recollections of the time are hazy, fail to take shape, devoid of characters other than my immediate family. Specific events are hard to recall but the atmosphere and the feeling lingers still. Though we would have been on summer holidays, Yorkshire comes back to me as a dark, dank and brooding landscape where I could play freely in the mud, spot horses battered by the wind in fields and see the occasional sheep carcass caught and abandoned in barbed wire along hedgerows. I was still small enough to believe in magic and watched the weather change with care, as though I could read the woodlands and the wildlife around. Yorkshire’s landscape is one where it’s easy to imagine England’s heritage, long before Empire, industrialism, Elizabethan poesy, even Tudor excess. This was the country of Robin Hood, Merlin, Boudicca, where our Celtic ancestors reigned and pagans left bodies dead and punished in the peat. Deep England, West Riding: the stage for Arthurian legends and the lustre of gold torques, so long ago it becomes hard to fathom chronology or timelines.

Yorkshire still cuts a peat-black figure across the national consciousness, as close to any wilderness we ever possessed, a direct line back to myth and legend, heavy and anchoring compared to the sparkling, heaving, glitching capital of stock markets, multiculturalism and twenty-four-hour news channels. Yorkshire is lore: the dead sheep and the cowpats, the ferns and stone walls, thick accents and ales, wax jackets and wellies, the damp and the cold, the mulch of wet leaves across seasons and secrets buried in mud. Yorkshire is a myth and an atmosphere in the English mind – one mined by Fiona Mozley to devastating effect in her haunting Booker Prize-shortlisted debut Elmet:

And if the hare was made of myths then so too was the land at which she scratched… The soil was alive with ruptured stories that cascaded and rotted then found form once more and pushed up through the undergrowth and back into our lives. Tales of green men peering from thickets with foliate faces and legs of gnarled timer.

Elmet charts the demise of a fringe family who build a house on land they cultivate but do not legally own. Daddy, Cathy and Danny live off the woodland surrounding their house, brewing their own cider, catching their own small game and whittling their own tools. Daddy makes his money from bare knuckle boxing matches across the country with gypsies and working class men. He leaves Danny and Cathy’s education in the hands of Vivien, a single woman who schools them from her home nearby. But the isolation and peace of their “strange, sylvan otherworld” is threatened by the landlord of the land on which they have built their home. Mr. Price and his sons descend in Land Rovers and Barbour jackets, demanding rent or payment of another sort: illicit work intimidating tenants or fighting for bets, as Daddy used to do for him years ago. Daddy objects and the family try to mount a resistance, gathering together support from other local tenants sick of rent hikes, from illegal labourers who demand higher pay. The unionising appears to hold promise for resolution, but the strife between Price and Daddy is personal and is what ultimately drives Elmet to its bloody conclusion, leading to the dissolution of the family’s brittle realm.

‘Elmet’ was the name of the last Celtic kingdom of Britain, whose territory roughly comprised what is now known as the West Riding of Yorkshire. The title serves as a mainline into the Yorkshire lore Mozley so heavily relies upon, also referencing the work of Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes – an extract of his Remains of Elmet appears as the novel’s epigraph. Mozley’s skill lies in the consistency of her vision of this land and kingdom – allusions to the modern world are vanishingly rare – evoking the atmospheric landscape with minute geographical detail and long descriptions of Danny and his family’s handiwork: whittling, washing, plucking and coppicing. It sounds dry, perhaps, but rarely does the narrative lose pace, nor does the telling feel laboured; instead, in the family’s toil, the spectres of paganism and erstwhile societies loom large, suggesting Daddy, Cathy and Danny as descendants, vestiges of legendary, ancient kin – the last of an embattled kind.

The evocation of Elmet also foretells the central tragedy of the novel – of loss and injustice – the eventual defeat of a kingdom by newer, more modern, more bloodthirsty threats. The fall of a kingdom is not just the loss of the right to reign but also the loss of a culture, a tradition, of lifestyles and skills, of claims to land that are more physical than the abstractions of land deeds and legal challenges. The family cultivate the land they live on, build a relationship with the surrounding landscape, care for the area of woodland with skills that have long been lost to the majority of the population. Yet Price, the landlord, still demands his money. He still intimidates. Comes with his boys who intimidate Danny and badger Cathy. He comes out of his own greed for control, through his disdain for the working class Daddy and his children, for the dirty work he can make a man he considers inferior do for him, for the profit and the sway. Because to Price, Daddy and his children are not simply unworthy of compassion, their lower class is physically repulsive to him. He terrorises the family from their home like hounds hunt foxes from their dens.

It’s easy to make much of Elmet’s canonical and mythical nods – easy because there are so few recognisable contemporary references. The Land Rovers and train lines suggest the novel takes place at least in the latter half of the twentieth century; only the invocation of the “Adelantes and Pendolinos that streaked from Edinburgh to London” place it in the twenty-first. But many of its concerns come from a very twenty-first century author. Mozley is twenty-nine; she worked on the novel for most of her late twenties while working at a literary agency in London then while pursuing her PhD in York. Widely reported in the press was how the novel came to life, partially tapped out on Mozley’s smartphone during her daily commute. Some of the rage (and there is rage in Elmet) comes from her sense of frustration at the slog of living in the capital. “I was probably quite an angry young woman”, she told The Guardian, for being part of a generation who are “paying all of our salaries to other people for no clear reason.” In the Evening Standard, she recommended Theresa May read the novel. It was just months after May’s anaemic show of compassion for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, whose scorched shadow on the skyline of London has become a symbol for the housing crisis in the capital, where dilapidated mansions lie empty but council houses are packed precariously to the rafters, the assets of the wealthy safeguarded more than the lives of the working class.

Elmet’s pertinence to modern discourse does not end with questions of inequality, land and ownership; Mozley’s exploration of gender and blurring of biological binaries makes Elmet thoroughly contemporary. Without such treatment, the work could easily read as a wholly more traditional narrative – there is, after all, nothing inherently unconventional about the story of a white working class man’s struggle to get by. That man serves as the axis on which the gender of his children is charted and bent. Daddy is archetypal manhood manifest: towering, broad and virile, fighting and hunting and brooding. No one would bet against Daddy, Danny recounts, because Daddy was the best in the land. In stark contrast, Danny, the teenage son who narrates the novel, reads as almost unmistakably female. He occupies the domestic sphere, busies himself with homemaking, horticultural duties, household chores. He does the laundry and the washing. His hair and nails are long. It is Cathy – her name a nod to the unearthly protagonist of Wuthering Heights – who takes after her father. She possesses inexplicable strength, stays as silent as her father, smokes her roll-up cigarettes and skips Vivien’s classes to go walking about in the woods. Mozley moulds the narrative to work the same way as the characters’ physical isolation: we are reminded of Danny and Cathy’s genders only when they interact with figures outside of the family nucleus. Price’s boys direct all their questioning at the brother, while ignoring the sister except when they make advances to her. When a spectator of Daddy’s boxing match eyes up Danny, he remarks on the boy’s queer look, ridiculing his failure to take after his father. When he goes through Vivien’s wardrobe and underwear with the gaze of a girl examining the artefacts of her mother’s femininity, carefully eyeing up the fit of the clothes, Danny attests to his own gender non-conformity: “You have to appreciate that I never thought of myself as a man. I did not even think of myself as a boy. Of course, if you had asked me I would certainly have replied that that was what I was. It is not as if I had ever actively rejected that designation. I just never thought about it.” It’s a somewhat gratuitous observation which betrays the insecurity of a debut writer trying to make sure the point is heard, insuring herself of the message; it is one of Mozley’s rare missteps.

If Daddy acts out the rage of the dispossessed working man and Danny experiences the confusion of gender introspectively, it is Cathy who externalises the wrath of women oppressed and harassed. And it is with Cathy that Mozley’s work to kindle the legends and lore of the wild country pays dividends in a conclusion that is at once more beautiful, more bloody and wholly more radical than the gratuitous bloodbaths of modern pop culture. If Danny questions his gender designation, Cathy does not question hers, only fights the constraints of it. She has inherited the traditionally masculine character traits of Daddy but acknowledges to Danny that she will never be able to use her father’s tactics to the same effect; she struggles against the femininity of her body and the entrapment that comes with it as it grows. She’s aware of the male gaze on her – from Price’s sons, from his men, from boys in her former school – and senses the greed in their entitlement to her attention, her subservience and the danger in her rejection of them. She’s aware that one of them will come for her eventually, inevitably, like Price does for Daddy, and that, when he does, he won’t heed no for an answer. And she is angry in the face of it all – an anger that is familiar to women, is too often repressed, too seldom finds its outlet. In Elmet it finds its outlet. Cathy is the heir to her father’s violence, his legendary strength, and it is she who continues the myth, who holds the rage that drives the tale to an end; she possesses the power to maim and to kill, to fight and to venge, covered in blood and letting the Earth scorch beneath her feet, quite literally. And as the flames dance in her heroine’s eyes, Mozley achieves no small feat with her debut, writing herself into a canon with a tale that is both timely and innately timeless.

Rachel Wilson is a writer and translator currently based in Berlin whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Broadly, i-D, The Lifted Brow, Fusion and more.

'Worldly Placelessness' by Cher Tan

“People are always, yet never, at home.”
—Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity

I'm sitting in a brand-new cafe close to where I live, bordering the suburbs Mile End and Torrensville in Adelaide. Warm lighting casts a soft glow from the coffeee shop 24/7 (a lone, happy fixture on Henley Beach Road, even past midnight); bulbs encased in wire-frame shades hang from wooden beams, daylight is siphoned from outside via glass panels that serve as both doors and windows. This suburb, like so many neighbourhoods before it — places my wealthy white ex-employers call “dero” — has become victim to the neoliberal claws of gentrification. An organic grocer stands amidst African hair salons and Vietnamese lunch bars, its gaudiness matching its neighbours, hand-painted signs jostling for attention.

A flat white sits in front of me, its latte art a perfect laurel, like the flat white I had in Penang four years ago, like the flat white I had in Prague two years ago, like the #flatwhites dotted across the Instagram landscape in Nanjing, Budapest, Turku, Chechnya.

Where was I? Sometimes I could hardly know.


Keiichi Matsuda's short video “Hyper Reality” takes place in an unspecified near future. The film presents ‘a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged’. A meditation on the saturation of digital and augmented media onto our daily lives, the narrative follows a person as we peer into their life. Screens are superimposed on top of daily banalities — as the protagonist rides a bus, walks on the street, and shops in the supermarket they are constantly engaging with a points system in relation to their existence. Here, life is like a videogame; you are assigned menial tasks (grocery shopping, proof-reading, caring—presumably for others richer in points than you) to level up and gain more status. When idle, the protagonist occupies themselves with a Candy Crush-esque interface to win bonus perks, like a free coffee. At one point, they contemplate “resetting” their identity — losing all progress they've gained, starting over from zero — only to change their mind. Surrounding street signs are in English, and the protagonist converses in Spanish to a customer service rep. We learn that they are in Medellín, Colombia. However, it seems that these scenes can be taking place anywhere. Matsuda envisages a future where the whole world is moderated by the same technology, where each city only slightly different from the last, like a funhouse of mirrors repeating the same images in a constant loop.

As globalisation becomes even more widespread as a result of an interconnectivity writ large, urban centres around the world are starting to look more and more like one another. In the decades after WWII, as politicians across the world rushed to break down borders hampering trade, brands like McDonald's and Ikea led the way: the satisfying bite into a Filet O' Fish became available anywhere, everywhere; the simple aesthetic of a Lack table dotted houses in cities worldwide. Friends in Jakarta, Berlin, Melbourne and Hong Kong have the same Expedit shelving unit for vinyl LPs, most likely a consequence of some unnamed genius' repurposing of what was meant to be a mere ornamental shelf — later Facebooked, Tumblrised, and Instagrammed all over. From this point, the connotations behind capital become more elastic yet more vague, monetary capital expanding and folding into the social and cultural spheres. Cafes, bars and living spaces start to resemble one big franchise, mediated by digital connectivity.


When French philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote Simulacra and Simulation in 1981, he wasn’t so much portending the near future as much as he was commenting on the rise of mass media, consumerism and hyper capitalism experienced by the early 80s. Baudrillard was reflecting on the phenomenon of mega-centres like Las Vegas and Disneyland—sites which enabled visitors to feel like they could provide 'more reality than nature can'. Yet, fast forward three and a half decades later, and the signs of what he conceptualised as “hyperreality” (a condition in which reality and fiction are so intertwined it's uncertain where one ends and the other begins) feels even more real. We're witnessing the vested search for an authentic identity exploding and collapsing unto itself. As Baudrillard writes:

'reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.'

In our digital age, images and realities are being broadcasted on an instantaneous level, up for grabs to just about anyone in the world with an internet connection. In 2017, Baudrillard's hyperreality is no longer confined to one particular location, but rather its virality is apparent in the way its tentacles are spreading outward, whether that's through #minimalism (7,600,000 strong at time of writing), /r/RoomPorn (560,000 subscribers) or simply Like places of worship and airports, a small bar in Singapore can look like another in Portland or in London, its patrons dressed eerily alike.

This strange global phenomenon of uncanny likeness is what US cultural critic Kyle Chayka calls “AirSpace”: 'the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices and co-live/work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseur mindset.' Coined from closely observing the evolution of the Airbnb aesthetic worldwide, this aesthetic is characterised by wooden floors, big windows, refurbished and exposed brick, celebrated in lifestyle magazines such as Kinfolk and Monocle. Airspace is marked by interchangeability, frictionless exchange, and symbolic blankness. It's a living room with a pile of vintage suitcases neatly placed in a corner; it's furniture made from shipping pallets, cinder block shelves, a cluster of mismatched picture frames adorning a wall above a fireplace. By claiming to be “authentic” in their uniformity, these markers denote a sense of less that, in our era of excess, ironically feels more real.

And who represents this so-called connoisseur? From a glance, it is easy to infer that they are almost always white, educated and upwardly mobile. The phenomenon of Airspace represents gentrification gone viral, as a globalised hyperreality operates in tandem with taste-making and creation. In the rush to pursue this version of “global citizenship”, it is important to ask, who:

1) gets to gain entry?
2) gets evicted?
3) benefits?
4) defaults?

When taste and taste-making becomes globalised, at whose expense will this come at? The globally affluent, the purveyors of this specific 'global sameness of taste' may revel in the fact that they can seek comfort in more and more places across the globe, but this comes at a price: other selfhoods either fail to measure up or are pushed out. Ghosts remain. As Chayka comments: ‘you either belong to the Airspace class or you don’t.’

In a time of Marie Kondo-style decluttering, negative space becomes synonymous with abundance: a minimalist way of life affects a sense of conspicuous affluence modelled after the cosmopolitan western world. What happens when Beijing looks like Paris looks like Sydney looks like Lagos looks like Helsinki looks like Kuala Lumpur looks like Montréal? Already, as Chayka observes, 'it's possible to travel round the world and never leave Airspace. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless... Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.'


These spaces surround me more and more the longer I exist in wealthy, so-called “developed” societies. I'm at once drawn to them, yet simultaneously repulsed—their stoic exteriors are a symbol of a class that I have one foot in and the other foot out of. The punk warehouses of my early adulthood are gradually transforming into commodities enjoyed by all––a temporary escape into a kind of culture that appears revolutionary while teetering on the edges of the universal. Friends in Singapore are priced out of their temporary homes one by one, as scummy neighbourhoods make way for cheap business opportunities with just the ‘right kind’ of edge. Meanwhile, Mad Mouse Alley (arguably Adelaide's best community centre) shuts down after two years, its landlord eager to plagiarise its non-profit model for profit. Our mate Shep's artwork is painted over with white. In one fell swoop, communities of migrants, misfits and agitators lose a sense of tangible rootedness as meeting spaces disappear. My interstitial self looks upon these losses always with despair. I flit in and out of bright white art venues, my Southeast Asian face a curious anomaly, hyper-visible yet invisible. Opening my mouth to speak, my hybridised accent skews western, saying all the right things. I may not have a university degree and earn only twenty-four grand a year—some weeks barely making rent—but I am light-skinned and rich enough in the language of the colonisers. Even as I write, capitalism threatens to commodify my lived experience.


Currently, North American seed accelerator—'the world's most powerful startup incubator'— Y Combinator is carrying out a research phase to study building new, ‘better’ cities. Their website proudly proclaims: 'it's possible to do amazing things given a blank slate'. At the same time, Facebook has released plans for a 'mixed-use village' in Menlo Park, California, where their headquarters are located. The development plan calls for nearly two thousand residential units, as well as grocery and other retail stores, a pharmacy, a hotel, and office space. What will these vicinities look like, and who will they serve? Already, cities are transforming at alarming rates as late-capitalism scrambles to optimise the day-to-day lives of its producers. One of the questions Y Combinator asks of its participants is this: “How should we measure the effectiveness of a city? (what are its KPIs?)”

Closer to home, urban planning continues unabated under the guise of change. New “master-planned” cities in Australia are silently rising up from the ashes of farms and Aboriginal communities. From Queensland's Norwell Valley (to house a Chinese-owned Disney-esque theme park, and “Silicon Valley-type activity”) to Western Australia's Lake Argyle in the Kimberleys (plans include an international airport, pegged to be the country's “second capital” and “first mega city”), the concept of terra nullius rages on. Business as usual. Further afield, existing cities continue to see gentrification as a means to eliminate/assimilate those least desirable into capital's progress—the histories of areas like Redfern and Fitzroy are testament to the fact. This fair continent we call “ours” keeps building upon its ghosts, layers and layers of gold atop blood and unaddressed displacement. Thomas Hickey's murder in Redfern continues to haunt and juxtapose its 1.4 million property valuations; towns like Oombulgurri are forcibly closed on the grounds of it 'no longer being viable'. How many other names do we not know? The ones who cannot be eliminated are locked up; in Kelly Lytle Hernandez's City of Inmates, she writes: 'Prisons are used to exterminate a certain population with the intention of gaining access to their land.'


When cities and neighbourhoods pursue linear goals in order to look like one another, Baudrillard's hyperreality inserts itself deeper into our cultural narrative. Sets of signifiers are created to represent things which do not actually exist—as one sits on a replica Eames chair, they're hoping an intimate distance to markers of taste will align them closer to cultural capital.

Is it possible to form a global community without sacrificing local specificity? As Chayka notes: ‘if taste is globalized, then the logical endpoint is a world in which aesthetic diversity decreases.’ When personal brands become indistinguishable from corporate branding, and when societally produced objects signify prestige through a certain decorative excess—“taste” is exerted through a homogeneous way of externalising oneself. These unspoken markers continue to project itself through ways of living and consuming, as taste-makers put themselves in a position to teach others how to feel the right things.

Indeed, this myth-making trickles down further. As taste gradually becomes the same everywhere, borders blur, but only for those who make the ‘cut’. In the same way how a cafe in Hanoi can look like another in Beijing, both replicas of those in the white western world, a form of “colour-blindness” occurs: I'll enter a space to align myself closer to whiteness, my taste in books (Murakami), films (Wes Anderson) and dress sense (chinos and loafers) a cloak to hide my Otherness while white society pats itself on the back for my presence. If I don't mention it, I'm safe––mentioning my difference only points out my difference; concurrently, my Otherness adds value to the neoliberal conversation surrounding multiculturalism and diversity.

It's business as usual, but given new names. Globalisation continues to build on ongoing empires in the guise of reinvention, borders and boundaries appearing seamless only for those who subscribe to makeshift cultural codes. Invisible dotted lines keep guard, demarcating who's in, while keeping undesirables out. And as our dystopias look more and more like each other, placelessness haunts every street, both as a spectre and a foreboding of the future.

Cher Tan is a freelance writer in Adelaide. She writes mostly on tech, identity, politics and culture. Her work has previously appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Right Now, Roads and Kingdoms, VICE, Catapult and Overland, amongst others. Follow her on Twitter @mxcreant

Two Poems by Chen Chen

The School of Morning & Letters

Assigned to flurries
of dust, assigned to the dead
middle of winter in West Texas,

assigned to give assignments
in a building called English,
I walk to campus, rubbing flecks

of night from my eyes.
On my phone, the morning
headlines spell crisis,

the morning is picture
after picture of the coiffed like
cotton candy doom,

the chalky delirious face
of our leader, endorsed
by the KKK.

Assigned him, assigned
this season of k’s & hard c’s,
I look up & see the dark

birds called grackle,
congregating near English.
I catch, am caught in the winged

weather above food court & student
union. I listen to the grackle
orchestra of unrelenting

shriek. I study the blur
of their long-tailed swerving, their
bodies like comets, frenzied

commas, yet unable, finally,
to mark, to contain
the wide blue Texas sky.

Still, they try. Every beak
& claw, every uncalm feather
tries, as if the sky

were the only fact left,
as if the grackles
have been told to memorize it,

as if someone, someday,
will ask them to
speak it, this long blue sentence.


Your emergency contact has experienced an emergency.

The Texas sun shines hard on everything like a detective.

You hide out, eating soup from microwavable cans.

Sometimes, you’re studying abroad & ask the kitchen table where to find the closest subway station.

Sometimes, the kitchen table replies, By the family of cockroaches in the bathroom.

Other times, Language is the last thing you should learn more of.

The cockroach family nods.

The Texas sky changes color like a vast PowerPoint very proud of itself.

You feel like a cockroach except you know how to use the microwave.

Sometimes, every living thing just sounds like: Please.

Other times, Please don’t. Please no.

The mother cockroach says, In the event of a sudden loss of cabin meaning, back-up meanings will drop from the overhead compartment.

The Texas moon shines like a misplaced clue.

Please grab hold of a meaning & pull it to your face.

Your kitchen table shines back, an unsolvable station.

Please hold, pull close.

In a sudden cabin of loss, you are a sound you haven’t yet learned.

These poems are published in The Lifted Brow #36. You can purchase a copy here.

Chen Chen's debut, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, was longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry.

Brow Books in 2018

2017 was a ripper of a year for Brow Books. We published Shaun Prescott's critically acclaimed novel, The Town – which has since been acquired by Faber and sold into several territories. Then we published Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice from Benjamin Law and His Mum Jenny Phang, the irreverant advice book that might just fix your sex life, your personal life, maybe your life generally. And in November we released The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two, a collection of the best pieces to come out of our print magazine over the last five years.

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Excerpt: 'Law School' answers from TLB36

Each issue, Benjamin Law and his mother Jenny dispense advice on sex and friendship. The longest-running regular column in The Lifted Brow, since 2011 the ‘Law School’ column has been offering stern warnings, enthusiastic encouragement and sage (and not-so-sage) wisdom to desperate lovers and sexual adventurists alike.

Dear Ben and Jenny, I moved states for uni and thus haven’t lived with my younger brother for a few years. He’s about to finish school and has decided he wants to come to Melbourne too. One of my housemates is moving, so it seems convenient he move in with me next year. Convenient all for the fact we might end up fucking in bedrooms next door to one another! Ick. I slept in a shed out the back of our family home during high school – no chance of him bumping into his sister’s post-sex partners there. Plus he was around fourteen when I left home, so I’ve never really considered him a sexual being before. Is this going to be too weird?
Sibling distress

BENJAMIN: So my siblings and I don’t have hang-ups talking about sex. But for some reason, if the conversation veers to our own sex lives—personal, specific details—we immediately shut that shit down. The moment we see/hear/smell any evidence, we basically just scream and scream and scream. But you don’t need to worry: no one wants their sibling to know they’re fucking someone in the next room. Scope the possibilities of sleeping at your respective dates’ places, and if that ain’t possible, give your date the heads-up and give your sibling the same. (This might also be the time to invest in earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones.) Also: don’t be hung up about the inevitable breakfast table meetings: the joy of this situation is you can happily milk that awkwardness for all it’s worth. It’s your job as a big sister.

JENNY: If you decide you want your younger brother to move in with you, then you should expect that all these “sexual things” will happen. With all the sex culture in Australia (there’s drink culture; sex culture) I don’t think it’s a big deal, is it? Will it be awkward and embarrassing? It depends on the other person’s personality – the sex partner’s personality, especially at the breakfast table. “Oh you’re the one fucking my brother/sister the previous night!” How they react might actually be a good test in terms of their character! Still, I understand. Ben’s baby sister was at our sex advice book launch and said, “I’m scarred for life” even hearing the smallest details about his sex life. And that’s just listening about his sex life, not hearing the sex noises. (Ew. Ugh. Ooh.) It really depends on how close you are with your brother, but I guarantee you’ll hear all the noises. But remember: you can both fuck at your partners’ place too!

Dear Ben and Jenny, I’d really like to start experimenting with sex toys, but they’re all so expensive! Further, most of them are manufactured unethically, right? Is it okay to shoplift from sex shops? Is it okay to reap the benefits of sex shops at all? Do you know of any cheap and ethical manufacturers of sex toys…? Probably not.
Kind regards,
Sex flop

BENJAMIN: It’s true: decent-quality, ethical sex toys are expensive. You know why? BECAUSE YOU’RE GONNA PUT THEM INSIDE YOUR HOLES. If you wouldn’t put cheap, factory-made, ethically dubious, nasty-smelling, chemical-smeared food in your mouth, why would you put a $25-made in China novelty dildo in your ass? Ethically made sex toys can be bought at online retailers like Vavven ( and Ethical Sex Toys (, and in Australia, Mia Muse – a Melbourne-based sexologist and educator – sells terrific toys for women and men. You’re right: they ain’t cheap. But if you have a partner, find the toy you want and demand it next Valentine’s Day. If you’re single, look at your calendar now and mark out your next birthday or a work milestone. Work out how many weeks are between now and then, and how much money you’ll need to put aside each week. Treat yo’self to that obsidian hand-crafted dong. Then celebrate, knowing you’re caring for the earth, human labour laws, as well as your cooch.

JENNY: Ooh, I recently watched a documentary about sex toys on SBS, about this company started by two guys in America. You can go online and look for it. FYI: sex toys can be recycled. Are you surprised? I was! The machine will chew them up into fine particles and they go back to make more sex toys. Ai-ya, the documentary is very informative, educational, and so much fun to watch. Everyone should watch it! Anyway, I think you should enjoy sex toys to the max-lah. And go hunting far and wide: you never know – the price might surprise you! This day and age you can find anything online, correct? Ask family and friends. Ask your grandparents. Okay, maybe not family. Just kidding. Oh dear. Also, my god: never shoplift from sex shop. I am shocked you asked me this. Never shoplift from anything, not even lollies, not to mention sex toys. You want to get famous on the front page or on social media … HOLDING A SEX TOY?

This piece is published in full in The Lifted Brow #36. You can purchase a copy here.

You can also purchase Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice from Benjamin Law and his Mum Jenny Phang from the Lifted Brow's book publishing imprint, Brow Books.

Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based TV screenwriter, journalist and newspaper columnist. He is the author of two books, The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012), both of which have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards. The Family Law is now in its fourth reprint, has been translated into French and is now a major SBS TV series.

Jenny Phang was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and is the mother of five children, including The Lifted Brow writers Michelle and Benjamin Law. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

Just in time for Christmas: Custom 'LAW SCHOOL' Wrapping Paper!

Free Wrapping Paper

Need a Christmas present for your Mother-in-Law or your Nan? Never fear, we've got you covered! For this festival holiday season we have a special deal going: you get free Beatrix Urkowitz wrapping paper included with any purchase of Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice from Benjamin Law and his mum Jenny Phang.

What are you waiting for? Go order a copy now!

About the Book:

Do you accidentally get turned-on while watching a nature documentary? Are you dating someone whose tattoos are the worst but you’re having the best sex of your life? Are you feeling emasculated because your girlfriend has had more one-night stands than you? Never fear: the world’s first mother-son sex and relationships advice duo is here to save you from yourself.

The longest-running regular column in The Lifted Brow, the ‘Law School’ column has been offering stern warnings, enthusiastic encouragement and sage (and not-so-sage) wisdom to desperate lovers and sexual adventurists alike in every issue of our magazine since 2011. This collection brings the best of ‘Law School’ out of the shadows of the literary back pages and into an excruciatingly funny and semi- explicit illustrated book of advice you never knew you needed.

Hilarious, rude and surprisingly heart-warming, Law School covers the practical and ethical dilemmas of sex and relationships from two generational and cultural perspectives. Ben and his mum Jenny challenge the way we think and talk about the intimate, and all in funny, earnest and blunt banter. Their advice will either save your sex and love life, or ruin you forever.

Purchase a copy of Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice from Benjamin Law and his mum Jenny Phang here.

About the Artist:

Beatrix Urkowitz lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Her comics and illustrations have appeared in The Lifted Brow and on Hazlitt, and can be seen at

By Numbers: Australia's Offshore Detention System

'By Numbers' is a recurring feature that appears in our print magazine – where we use numbers in a snapshot way to try and reveal the true breadth and depth of an issue. This ‘By Numbers' on Australia's Offshore Detention System, using the most recent data available at that time, was originally published in March 2017 in Issue 33 of our print magazine.

Estimated number of refugees settled in Australia between 1901-2016: 854,23
Year last vestiges of the White Australia Policy were removed from immigration policy: 1973
Year of first person seeking asylum in Australia, arriving by boat: 1976
Number of skilled stream permanent visas provided by Australia between 2015-2016: 128,550
Of refugees resettled in Australia through UNHCR: 17,555
Estimated annual revenue generated by visa applications: $1,914 million
Estimated number of people forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of conflict and persecution across 2015: 65.3 million
Number of recorded deaths on migratory routes worldwide in 2016: 7,509
In Southeast Asia: 156
Number of deaths associated with Australia’s borders since 2000: 1,991
Of drownings: 1,905
Of suicides: 22
Australia’s (nominal) GDP world rank: 19
Papua New Guinea’s: 111 Nauru’s: 195
Average cost of holding one person seeking asylum in offshore detention for a year: $500,000
Of settling one person in the community for a year while their claim is being processed: $15,000
Average number of days people seeking asylum spent in immigration detention centres: 478
Proportion who have been detained for more than two years: 23.6%
Number of women seeking asylum who miscarried in Manus, believed to be attributed as side-effect of anti-malarial medication: 3
Number of washing machines available in Nov 2013 to the over four hundred men housed in the Foxtrot compound of Manus: 1
Number of incidents of self-harm in onshore detention centres between July 2014-2015: 706
Estimated medical cost per person of treating mental illness provoked by prolonged detention: $25,000
Number of times Faysal Ishak Ahmed sought medical help on Manus in the two months before he died: 13
Incidents of child abuse recorded between May 2013-October 2015 in Nauru: 1,086
Countries other than Australia that indefinitely imprison children seeking asylum: 0

Sources: Missing Migrants Project; The Refugee Council of Australia’s report ‘Refugee Needs and Trends: A Statistical Snapshot’; Asylum Insight; the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre; Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, ‘Year at a glance: 2015-2016’ and ‘Immigration Detention Statistics for 31 December 2016’; Madeline Gleeson, Offshore (NewSouth Books); ‘The Messenger’Podcast, from Behind The Wire and The Wheeler Centre; The Australian Border Deaths Database by The Border Crossing Observatory; Australian National Audit Office report ‘Offshore Processing Centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea: Procurement of Garrison Support and Welfare Services’, 2016.

The Manus Island processing centre was offiially closed on October 31, 2017. Refugees in Manus prison were forcibly removed from the facility on November 24, 2017.

'Notes from Turning Thirty' by Ellena Savage

How did I get to thirty without several doomed and haunting love affairs? I mean all my romantic relationships failed, except for this one I’m in right now, and most of them failed miserably. But their failures were not at all poetical. The older I am, it seems, the less doomed. I’m pleased about that. Though this fix may be a trick. Every extra day increases the chance of full-scale disaster.

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TLB #36: The Feeders Digest Edition – On Sale Today!

We're thrilled to announce that Issue #36 of The Lifted Brow, the Feeder's Digest edition, is out today! Subscribers – those clever devils – are already receiving their copies in the mail (and you can too). Non-subscribers can buy a copy of this nourishing magazine from any reputable newsstand/bookstore across Australia (click here for a list of our stockists).

Our latest bumper summer-reading edition is a cornucopia of literary and visual delights. Packed with quality fiction, non-fiction, poetry and art, it tears through our rituals of consumption and self-gratification. And check out that cover artwork by Jordan Speer – adorable AND nutritious.

Here is the full list of contents and contributors for Issue #36:
  • non-fiction from Karen Allison Hammer, Lei Wang, Lian Low, Astrid Lorange, Justin Clemens, Michael Davison, Tamar Chnorhokian, Katerina Bryant, Mark Dean, Briohny Doyle, Michael Dulaney, Jana Perković, Ellena Savage, and Hayley Singer;
  • short fiction by Jack Vening and Anna Spargo-Ryan, and also by Wei Tianyi (translated by Michelle Deeter);
  • poetry by Craig Santos Perez, Chen Chen, Valeria Tentoni;
  • a conversation between Craig Santos Perez and Chen Chen;
  • comics and artwork from Lou Smith, TextaQueen, Max Baitinger, Aaron Billings, Jordan Speer, Lizzie Nagy, Nicky Minus, Max Mose, Merv Heers, Mary Leunig, Anna Di Mezza, Rachel Ang, Molly Turner, Stephen Tierney, Oscar Nimo, Jonathan McBurnie, Josephine Edwards, Rosell Flatley, and Nikolaus Dolman;
  • and, as always, Benjamin Law and his mum Jenny's sex and relationships advice column ‘Law School’.

Grab a copy and dig in! Subscribe to save 35% on the cover price and have our beauitful mag delivered to your doorstep.

‘I’ll Always Be There For You, Except Sometimes When I’m Not: A Review of Harriet McKnight’s “Rain Birds”’, by Marta Skrabacz

Writing about birds is never simply about birds. They can be harbingers of hope, the way witch hazel is a harbinger of spring (Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers / That perches in the soul”). Or, they can be delusions induced by trauma, like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven or Max Porter’s crow (whose title, Grief is a Thing With Feathers, is a nod to the Dickinson line). Or they can provide a mirror through which to contort memory and visions of oneself, as in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman.

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