I can’t remember where I first read about Mun Mun, but when I saw it was available to request on NetGalley I grabbed it immediately, because the concept was so intriguing. In the end, this has a better concept than execution, but I think some people out there will love it.
Book: Mun Mun by Jesse Andrews
Read Before: No
Ownership: Ebook provided by NetGalley in exchange for review
The basic premise of Mun Mun is stellar in its originality and simplicity: everyone is a different size based on their wealth. So the poor are tiny, and the rich are giants. It’s obviously an allegory, and I was interested to see the mechanics of the world. That’s one thing that’s done very well. Andrews has a vivid, if stark, way of describing things in few words, which allows a lot of world-building to pack into a short amount of time. The different sizes of buildings, the way that the roads work (cars that fit over other cars!) and the basic way of life for the ‘littlepoors’ is very interesting.
There is a heavy use of slang and unusual language in this book, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The overall style of the language is very stripped back, which makes sense for a character who struggles with reading and writing, and a lot of words are squished together (it’s never clear if this is Warner’s doing or a generally accepted orthography). The density of this unusual language reminded me of A Clockwork Orange, except not taken to such an extreme. After a few pages, it’s easy to read (though I did find the Kindle version almost unreadable as it made every portmanteau look like a formatting error; it was much better when I switched to PDF).
However, the slang also complicates things, and shows up some holes in the world-building. The book is set in the Yewess (which took me around 200 pages to work out was the US), but there is no indication of whether this is the future, or a parallel world, or what. Slang like ‘lol’, ‘bradpitt’ and ‘ryangosling’ is used, which I found jarring as the references seem to belong to the last couple of decades, but otherwise the world is unrecognisable. In the same vein, I found the political satire (of world leaders literally talking about each other’s penises) to be a bit heavy-handed. There’s also an extremely pointless and boring rant about MLM/pyramid schemes that takes around 3 pages. So boring.
I did not like the main character at all. He makes stupid, selfish decisions, but ultimately always bounces back. Several of his friends end up dead or addicted or otherwise mangled to give him motivation. Very importantly, this book ought to have a trigger warning, because around 90 pages in, there is a horrible scene of gang rape. I understand that this is a book about the desperation of poverty, but it was unnecessary, and served only to further the journey of the main character Warner – his sister Prayer, the victim, is barely sketched out as her own character. It became all about his man-pain, as she barely features in the whole next section of the book – in fact, throughout the book, Prayer only shows up when she is useful to Warner. There are barely any other female characters, and they all are attracted to Warner, but dumped when they are no longer of interest to him.
From about 200 pages in, I was bored. I didn’t like Warner’s plots, and I thought that the narrative was ill-served by becoming a revenge-against-the-rich story. I lost all sympathy for Warner. Far more interesting was the plot of him getting to middle-size, and learning to fit in with that world – I would have liked it if the story kept some gravity rather than just going off in the bonkers way it did. The entire dream-world thing, which was very cool, was distinctly underused and disappeared from the page for the middle 250 pages or so.
Ultimately, this book is far too long for what was an engaging idea. I would have thoroughly enjoyed the allegory and satire if this were a short story, or even a novel of 250 pages or so. But 400+ pages is too much for a main character that’s hard to care about, on a mission that doesn’t make sense.
I’m really struggling for a rating because I think there’s a lot to love in this book, but for me, only the first half worked, and I thought that the author’s attitude to women sucked. I think it will have to be just 2 cats for me.