In her debut novel Kat Jumps the Shark, Melinda Houston portrays a rather unconventional take of the streets of Melbourne, and provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the television industry. Some of it I loved, some of it I wasn’t so sure about, but without a doubt this is a unique, funny, and thought-provoking book from an Australian author worth watching.
Kat Kelly is a TV location scout working on a Melbourne-based urban Survivor type reality show. On this show her work is all about finding urban “wildlife” (translation: rats), the best bins to rummage around in, and the harshest – yet still safe – locations Melbourne has to offer where contestants will try to “survive on the streets”. When a suicide lands in the middle of one location, Kat’s job hits a bit of a wobble; when a murder happens in another, however, her career is on the line.
While the future of her career – a career she happens to love – is brought into question, Kat also has to make tough decisions about the rest of her life. Is she happy to continue in her current relationship? If not, what then? What can possibly lie in store for a woman in her early forties with no children, no job and no man? What is worth holding on to and what is better to give up?
I loved Houston’s turn of phrase. She has a truly wonderful, witty way with words, right down to some exceptional vocabulary choices – downright enjoyable. The English language is so deliciously vast and varied I can’t help but be a right sucker for interesting language usage, and Houston hits the mark repeatedly.
The premise of this book also made for some interesting exploration of our society’s appetite for reality television, and the (often) ruthless industry it is. The idea of an urban Survivor epitomised the genre, and did provoke a lot of thought about how far we are willing to go for entertainment, and the ethic and moral issues this brings up (images of the Roman Empire kept flashing into my mind).
What I wasn’t so sure on, however, was whether I wanted so much of the story to focus on Kat’s work, in spite of how interesting a comment it made. When I picked up Kat Jumps the Shark, I was under the impression that it was a book of the rom-com variety, but I felt there wasn’t enough, well, rom-com. Houston includes a wonderful collection of supporting characters, but I felt I wanted more of them. Particularly of Wilson, the coffee guy, and Kat’s new love interest. And there are some beautifully written Chick-lit moments but I wanted more of that side of the story.
That said, I did enjoy this novel, and I do recommend Kat Jumps the Shark as a fresh new voice in fiction. Houston has imaginatively and astutely created a world that is believable and feasible; her characters are interesting and varied and with them she makes some insightful observations about the world of reality television. Kat Jumps the Shark is an entertaining and easy read and I look forward to seeing more from Melinda Houston.