One hundred days. It’s no time at all, she tells me. But she’s not the one waiting.
In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already overprotective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world—and to make sure she can’t get into any more trouble.
Stuck inside for endless hours, Karuna battles her mother and herself for a sense of power in her own life, as a new life forms and grows within her. As the due date draws closer, the question of who will get to raise the baby—who it will call Mum—festers between them.
Alice Pung is the author of bestselling memoirs Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, as well as her debut YA novel, Laurinda, which took home the Ethel Turner Prize at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Now Pung makes her first foray into adult literary fiction with One Hundred Days, a fractured fairytale that explores the faultlines between love and control.
Set during the 80s, One Hundred Days follows protagonist Karuna from childhood through to maturity as she grows up in the working-class suburbs of Melbourne, clashes with her overbearing mother, and falls pregnant after a brief fling with a tutor from the local community centre.
The novel is told from Karuna’s perspective, but is written in second-person, addressing her unborn baby. From a less experienced writer, the use of second-person might have been jarring, but here it is used to striking effect—adding an unfettered level of intimacy to the narrative, and allowing the story to serve as a love letter to Karuna’s child.
Karuna’s relationship with her mother sits at the centre of this story. Their relationship isn’t an easy one, and woven into this is the cultural and generational divides that come with the migrant experience. Karuna’s identity as a mixed-race Australian plays a large role in the novel, and she often finds herself clashing with the world views of her mother, a Philippines-born Chinese migrant.
One Hundred Days shares much in common with the traditional fairytale formula: the housing commission block is the tower, Karuna is the princess locked away, and her mother is the villain holding her captive. But Karuna doesn’t wait for some prince to whisk her away to safety. Instead, this is a story about Karuna coming into her own—it’s a celebration of herself.
Part coming-of-age story and part fairytale, One Hundred Days explores the complex landscape of mother-daughter relationships, class, and identity. At times tense and claustrophobic, it is nevertheless brimming with humour, warmth and character. A magnificent work from one of Australia’s most celebrated writers.