- Revenge: Murder in Three Parts, by S.L. Lim. Transit. $29.99.
Yannie is an A-Grade student who, thanks to having bombed out in the biological lottery, is forced to inhabit a thoroughly D-Grade world.
Her older brother, Shan, is an abusive piece of work who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to lift his 11-year-old sister by the throat and pin her against a wall when their juvenile joshing takes a turn he doesn't like.
The rest of the dramatis personae isn't much better. In fact, you can probably count the number of likeable characters in S.L. Kim's new novel, Revenge: Murder in Three Parts, on one hand. Depending on where you set the limits of likeability, you might only need a digit or two.
Yannie's mum is a feckless shell of a woman. She dismisses Shan's brutality and makes a point of not taking Yannie seriously, probably because she was never taken seriously, either.
She also does a pretty poor job of internalising her ire. "The look on her mother's face would have knocked her sideways if she were not already wearily inured to her mother's perpetual rage and disappointment, flaring and subsiding but never ceasing altogether."
Yannie's dad is described in the following unflattering terms: "Provincial enough to be boring even to other provincials, a head full of trivial arithmetic, extreme distress over sums of money which an even moderately comfortable family would laugh off".
He also tells Yannie that he can't afford to send her to university while, unbeknownst to his daughter, he agrees to fund Shan's postgraduate studies at Oxford. Not exactly Dad of the Year material.
"Can a belief held universally be untrue?" wonders the narrator early on in this bleak novel about patriarchy, thwarted ambition and the rage it ferments.
It's a rhetorical question, of course. "Over time, her family's belief in her stupidity becomes its own justification."
And so even though Yannie runs emotional and intellectual rings around her brutish brother and hopeless parents, she's typecast as the family flake and treated accordingly.
It's a foregone conclusion that Yannie will abandon her ambitions - art, love, travel - and stay behind in Malaysia to look after her ailing parents while her brother heads off to Oxford and onto a successful career in the corporate world.
The disclaimer at the beginning of Lim's second novel features an unusual addition. "Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. LOL!"
Is Kim's addition of the most over-typed acronym of the internet age intended to discourage questions about what may or may not be the autobiographical nature of her novel?
We can't be sure, but we do know that the themes covered here will be achingly familiar to many.
Humanity and patriarchy haven't always been two peas in a pod. It wasn't until we became farmers, some 12,000 years ago, that the idea of male dominance over social and economic affairs started to gain traction, with men anyway.
Presumably the women of the agrarian age were not as thrilled with the idea. Nevertheless, old habits die hard - unless, of course, they refuse to die at all.
With the exception of the Philippines, ASEAN nations score poorly on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, but Malaysia - the setting of much of Lim's novel - is notable for bringing up the rear.
The 2020 report sees Malaysia ranked 104 out of 153 countries, which suggests that it's still more than capable of producing men like Shan and, ipso facto, women like Yannie.
Of course, very few of those women will ever get the opportunity that Lim gifts Yannie in Revenge.
The second part of this murder in three parts sees Yannie travel to Sydney, where she attends a cousin's wedding and, in scenes that transmit in high definition the dysfunction of what's left of this family, basically meets her sister-in-law and her teenage niece for the first time.
She's also reacquainted with Shan, whose sociopathic tendencies appear to have blossomed under Sydney's sub-tropical sun.
Shan's the kind of man who says things like, "Darling, have you sent off my envelope to the superannuation people?" only to go positively postal and hurl a buttered crumpet across the room when he's told that, sadly, his envelope hasn't been sent to the superannuation people.
As for his reaction to Yannie unbuckling her seatbelt before he's turned off the car, it's so bad, so utterly disproportionate, it's almost funny. "WHAT THE F*** IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHO DOES THAT? WHAT THE F***!" he rages.
In the end, Yannie doesn't so much exact revenge for her brother's mistreatment of her as she does retribution for a cowardly act of financial abuse, but the net effect is the same: Shan is ruined.
Sadly, Yannie doesn't benefit from her brother's downfall in any way, and is doomed to live out the rest of her wasted life alone and largely unfulfilled.