First published 2015 by Macmillan Australia
I did not enjoy this book at all at first. So I was mystified to see that 9 out of 10 people gave it five stars on Goodreads, and for a while I felt like Elaine from Seinfeld when she went with her boss to see The English Patient.
Cloudwish is about a Vietnamese Australian named Vân Uớc (excuse me if I don’t have the right letters, but anyway it’s Vietnamese for ‘Cloudwish’), who wishes that a certain boy, Billy Gardiner, would find her fascinating. Immediately he does. The rest of the book is what happens as she deals with unexpected attention of Billy, as well as the jealous reactions of the cool girls. Meanwhile at home her mother is dealing with some mental health issues, but they don’t seem to intrude on the Billy storyline, or even have anything to do with it.
Admittedly I had just finished a book by Tim Winton and before that one by Vikki Wakefield, and in comparison found Cloudwish rather ordinary. In addition I thought it was too politically correct, too didactical, and contained too much information of the boring variety. For some reason Wood felt some obligation to include all these ‘diverse’ characters such as Jess, the Vietnamese Lesbian-in-waiting. While they may be winning her a few awards, to me it seemed like she was trying a little bit too hard to be inclusive of minority groups.
I also prefer not to be force-fed chunks of feminist theory or any other sociological blah blah – for example in chapter 11, we are introduced briefly to a Dr Fraser, a teacher with short orange hair…”and right now she was telling the class, incandescent, evangelistic, about how the allocation of space in department stores was just one more manifestation of the pressures put on women to conform to external social constructs.” Please! Why can’t a novel just be a novel? Like Jane Eyre. Tiddas by Anita Heiss was another shocker. Write me an essay, don’t hector me in fiction.
I did however enjoy the rich versus poor content, and always have been interested in social class in Australia, given that we lie to ourselves about not having any, so I thought the subtleties relating to class were presented rather well in Cloudwish.
And as for Cloudwish herself, what a sweetheart! Pity I still don’t know how to pronounce her name. Is it Van you-OCK or Van oo-OCK? We were told only that it is not Van-ock. Maybe Fiona Wood doesn’t know how to pronounce it either!
About 80 pages in I put the book down to read something else (Awful Auntie by David Walliams) and when I went back to the book, it had grown wings. From then on, it stuck to the story, and I was into it at last. I did not even mind the ending.