Why Holly Childs is the baddest writer around

Harry Burke salutes the young Australian's novella No Limits, a hyper-real odyssey set in Auckland during what might be the apocalypse

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Holly Childs

Holly Childs is the baddest girl around. The artist, poet and writer (and editor and curator) has just released a novella, No Limits, with Hologram Books, a new project publishing two novella-length books by Australian writers under the age of 30 every year. Childs is from Melbourne, and her crew seems to be made up of fashion-real net kids who make websites like surfersparadi.se. But they're not that net, really; just Australian kids looking for something to do who have decided to make culture. 

No Limits follows protagonist Ash – we're not given her bio – as she becomes stuck in Auckland when a volcano spews out a hefty ash cloud over the city while she's attempting to change flights to get home to Australia. She attempts to find her cousin, Haydn, but instead comes across a shitty asshole goth, a group show featuring Amalia Ulman, an art gallery with yoga balls in it, bad 3G connections, cocktails with drugs in (maybe), raves, cars, and lots of other things. The book is a hyper-real odyssey of sorts, with somehow beautiful details like “blue-tinged berry-scented air” and t-shirts emblazoned with “REAL IS A FEELING”. In the middle of all this, as much as trying to find Haydn, or her way home, Ash's prerogative is to find survival, or collectivity, or warmth, or any other deep-set yet thoroughly human trait.  

“One girl swings up and knocks a purple party disco-ball marble way off its axis and if this is supposed to be the end of the world, Ash is like, whatever, try harder”

The book's set in December 2012, so everyone's trying to work out if it's the end of the world or not (“Geez, if you really thought tonight was the last night on Earth, why the hell would you spend it at the movies?”). If you think this is a cheesy plot device, it probably is. But this is one of the best things about the book: it is self-referential as fuck (it's as self-referential as the simile “fuck”). When Ash and Dick (the aforementioned goth) go to the drive-in movies, the first film they see is Melancholia. So it's the last night on Earth, and everyone's parked their cars in an ash cloud to watch a film about a planet crashing into Earth, which also doubles up as a sort of metaphor about depression, and the shattering closedness and sense of finitude it engenders. What you're doing is reading a book about the potential end of the word, in a real world on the edge of shattering ecological and economic collapse. But which also has an ash cloud that passes as a metaphor for The Cloud. With a character called Ash, who's depressed. And you're probably depressed too. But here is where the book is successful; it's an allegory that's so close to real life that you can't help but confront it in a way that's real too. 

Out of this zero-sum game emerges a really perceptive humour, which stops book away from being seen as “just” an extension of Childs' art practice and instead confidently within a tradition of literature; revelling in a subtle twisting of idiom, and using language as creative response to adversity. “One girl swings up and knocks a purple party disco-ball marble way off its axis and if this is supposed to be the end of the world, Ash is like, whatever, try harder.” It's true it builds a narrative that does no more than list things happening around itself, but then it seems to the point of this is also to try and deconstruct these things, and create more vital kinds of meaning out of them (“They all affirm that they can't get online on their personal devices, so like, what's the point of even being at the rave?”). If we're spending all day staring into mirrors, as some people liken the experience of ubiquitous computing to, then this is a type of literature that really embraces/captures this. Yet it also uses this mirror in the most old-school and haunting way, as a mirror that warps, and distorts, and tells us things.

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