Wouldn’t it be funny if they were real?’
‘Shiny red men?’
‘What if I were the sane one and everyone else was mad?’
One night, the shiny guys visit fifteen-year-old Colin Lapsley. They don’t speak, but Colin can read their thoughts. They want him to pay for the terrible thing that he has done. When the shiny guys won’t go away, Colin is admitted to ward 44. Ther he discovers an alien world, a powerful weapon, a gentle giant, and a girl who may be able to see what he can see.
Lying is part of everything we do as humans. We lie, fib, stretch the truth, omit the truth, forget the truth. So many ways in which the truth is buried, and Colin, our protagonist, participates in them all. He’s the tragic hero of the piece – after the abduction of his younger sister Briony, which he was a witness to, life and his mental health begins to fall apart. He is, sadly, lying about the biggest thing of all: seeing his sister’s abductor. Colin lies; to us, to himself. So, is he really lying? Interesting question. Especially when his lies are about self-preservation.
This is a theme of Shiny Guys and many of the characters we are introduced to in Ward 44 are living a lie of repressed traumatic experiences. There is Mango with his impossible cupboard and compulsive hugging. One is directly related to the other, and yet Mango is left in ignorance, he’s only clues are in his dreams of the impossible cupboard. Anthea with her shadowy figures, eating disorder and unhappy home life. Len and his dead wife.
All of them lying in some way. And they’re such sad lies that they surround themselves with. I was interested in how it reflects back on us in in real life. The lies we tell to make something more palatable or easier to deal with or as a mechanism of protection against a confusing reality.
I am always fascinated by an unreliable narrator. I tend to experience the story as a semi-thriller instead. There is a heightened sense of danger and unknown to every sentence. Is this really happening? So distracted am I with figuring out what’s really going on that the plot tends to creep up on me, and often manages to knock me over. I was knocked over a little by Shiny Guys.
There’s much to like in MacLeod’s book; the care and kindness that he writes his characters (the mentally ill and their caretakers), the humor at just the right moment for relief, and at the center a tale of friendship, discovery and recovery.
Shiny Guys has just been shortlisted on the Victorian Premier’s Literacy Awards.