It is near-future Australia. Eve is hired on a new job, taking the code name ‘Alice’. Alice suffers from dreams that feel more like memories, yet are disconnected from her own experience. The job itself is deeply connected with Alice’s questions of self. All that she has pushed to the back of her mind will be surfaced. At first she doesn’t realise that she will be encapsulating and in effect creating ‘Alice’ – a new identity formed by a rediscovery of her past.
The Asking Game makes constant reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, utilising the motif of the mirror and the strange and mysterious journey of self. Why did her sister run away? Why were they so intricately linked and yet separated by Lucy’s resentment? Why did her father never dote on her the way he did Lucy?
‘She is the looking-glass-girl, born with fists full of remembering. Whoever she is, she walks towards the schoolteacher’s house kicking up dust until she’s covered in a layer of road: the invisible woman’ (p. 131).
Rose Michael places the reader in a recognisable future Sydney, then propels him/her through online meetings, encounters with other disguised identities, then to outback Australia where the answers lie underground. The prose is endearing, yet at times inconsistent, going from repetitious internalisations, to moments of action. There are certainly some moments of descriptive genius eg. ‘How wrong everyone is to compare the moon to other things: it is so very much itself’ (p. 217) At this point, the character is ready to be unlike another. The metaphors are mostly controlled and reflective of the central motif and other notions of identity. As a good speculative novel does, The Asking Game also questions scientific advancements of life, the benefits and dangers. As the title suggest, it questions but it gives no answers.
None of the characters besides Alice have much dimensionality (she is multi-faceted) but they are effective at driving the plot and consequences. ‘The Reverend’ is however, caricatured, and Drew is a blank slate. But Drew needs to be the bouncing point for Alice, the one who doesn’t reflect her like a mirror, the one who can let her build a new persona. The dialogue is unbelievably conscious, but it is a literary novel, and all the dialogue either poses riddles, or is figuring out riddles. Here again, she parallels Carroll’s tale.
It is a hybrid novel in itself, which couldn’t really be ‘identified’ by a particular genre. As mentioned, it is speculative and features adventure and mystery, similar to Andrew McGahan’s Underground or Ian Irvine’s eco-thriller series The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene and The Life Lottery. It is also quite literary and thus, fans of novels of self-discovery may also enjoy it. There is also a large element of mystery and suspense, and a definite cyberpunk element, particularly with the ‘online’ sections and the relevance to one being able to create one’s identity in a cyber environment.