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In The Limelight: An Intimate Conversation with Jamie Marina Lau on Her Latest Work, ‘Gunk Baby’

In the imaginative narrative of Jamie Marina Lau’s novel ‘Gunk Baby’, we follow 24-year-old Leen to the suburb of Par Mars, where she establishes her niche Chinese ear-cleaning business. Residing in her acquaintances’ flat, she navigates the commercial labyrinth of the Topic Heights mall, refining her business savvy—from rebranding her shop to “Lotus Fusion Studio” to employing a disinterested receptionist who spends work hours on her personal novel.

Leen catches the eye of Jean Paul, a fellow mall employee, who coaxes her into a clandestine club of staff who subtly undermine their supervisors with pranks. As Leen’s venture thrives, she grapples with the group’s escalating discussions of aggressive strategies against their leaders.

OurCulture conversed with Jamie Marina Lau on topics like the commodification of culture, the feeling of being the ‘other,’ the commercialization of wellness, and the crafting of her novel.

Welcoming you on your latest literary accomplishment! In what ways did penning this novel differ from creating your first, ‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’?

Appreciate it! The journey was distinctly different. ‘Pink Mountain’ came to life in an unplanned, fluid fashion. Both were instinctively composed through stream-of-consciousness. However, ‘Gunk Baby’ spanned three extensive edits and took three years to reach its final form. The current version is leaner by thousands of words. While ‘Pink Mountain’ retained its raw form upon publication, ‘Gunk Baby’ reflects a deliberate challenge to my thought processes and writing style.

With Leen embarking on her ear-cleaning studio project within an indoor complex, why choose Par Mars as her business launchpad?

Her creation began with a short narrative. I pictured her driving, her attachment to her vehicle—a Saab 900. This vivid scene laid the groundwork for developing her story six months later. Leen’s voice emerged distinctly, compelling me to explore the sources of her passive and disengaged demeanor. More than location, it was her character brewing first—her perception of the outside world shaping her.

Did this distinct voice precede her business idea?

Indeed, the year before we discover her interacting with her environment in a disconnected manner was the initial spark. It made sense as her story unfolded that she would engage in exploiting cultural nuances. The concept for her ear-cleaning service conceptualized post a reflective period in Hong Kong, accentuating the performative aspect of individuality within different spaces.

The setting of Par Mars is quite captivating, orbiting around an omnipresent shopping center. K.A.G., the retail giant, represents a curious amalgamation of IKEA and Walmart. How did capitalism become a focal point in your writing?

Interestingly, the narrative’s capitalist elements surfaced subconsciously. While I often let my writing flow to unravel hidden themes, I was astonished by capitalism’s inadvertent but significant incorporation into the story, and its impact on each character’s development.

Did insights from global perspectives, such as American consumerism, play a role in developing ‘Gunk Baby’?

The novel’s liminal settings allow exploration of commonalities across Western societies. It provokes thought on the widespread relatability of consumer culture. However, I leave it to readers to navigate their own understanding against the backdrop of their personal experiences and societal contexts.

In the novel, there’s an interplay between self-care practices and cultural appropriation—do these themes intersect purposefully?

Self-care commodification demands performing an exaggerated act of authenticity. It speaks volumes of our distance from genuine self-reflection and community-led caregiving, underscoring our era’s inclination towards monetizing every facet of the wellness industry.

The mischiefs at the mall spiral from harmless pranks to more perilous schemes. Was this inspired by the heightened visibility of worker-manager dynamics during the pandemic?

The concept stemmed from an inability to engage with concerns not immediately personal. I wanted to scrutinize this limitation to individualistic perspectives.

Leen navigates dual realms—the upscale life with a K.A.G. manager and the rebellious group. Does this duality cause her inner conflict?

Leen’s detachment from both her conflicting lifestyles points to a commentary on social dichotomies and the perils of virtue signaling. It reflects the resistance to probe the intricate weave of our actions and their broader ramifications.

Your novel layers discussions on capitalism, cultural appropriation, self-care, and societal unrest. What approach did you take to weave these aspects together?

The narrative’s evolution was organic and mirrored my personal writing process—a spontaneous unfolding of thoughts. Each aspect blooms directly from the subconscious, subsequently revealing deeper societal observations.

Closing our discussion, what’s on the horizon for you? Are you delving into another novel or embarking on different writing ventures?

I’m currently nurturing my third novel. Recently completed, it ventures into new thematic terrains blending insights from my past works. This next experiment holds dear the understanding and evolution of novel-writing as an art form.

You can find ‘Gunk Baby’ available here.

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