Book Review: One Hundred Days by Alice Pung

A fractured fairytale exposing the thin line between love and control.

One Hundred Days is the stunning new novel from award-winning author Alice Pung and follows her previous bestsellers Unpolished Gem and Laurinda. Already a giant of memoir and young adult fiction, this new novel marks Pung’s first literary fiction endeavour for adults. One Hundred Days is Pung’s best work so far, but know that it will break your heart.

Karuna is sixteen-years-old when she learns that she is pregnant. Her already over-protective mother is furious at the discovery and responds by locking Karuna in their fourteenth-storey housing commission flat in Melbourne’s west for one hundred days to make sure she won’t get into any more trouble. The story follows an endless tug of war between Karuna’s desperation for independence and her mother’s strong grip of control over her life.

One Hundred Days traverses the thin line between love and control and explores how love can twist people’s actions into flaws. Much of this is demonstrated by the generational gap between Karuna, an Australian-born mixed-race girl, and her Philippines-born Chinese mother. Karuna’s identity as mixed-race is something new: while she shares ethnicity with each of her parents, neither of them are mixed-race and that is she something she experiences alone. She doesn’t have her mother’s taste for home-brewed Chinese remedies and her father quickly becomes absent and neglectful.

While One Hundred Days shares many similarities with a classic storybook narrative, it certainly isn’t that kind of tale. Instead, it’s a fractured fairytale that explores the misfortunes of love and  the realities of emotional abuse. One Hundred Days is a 1980s retelling of Rapunzel, except that Karuna’s prince is long gone and he’s not coming back to rescue her. When the story starts, Karuna is left alone with her mother, locked in her tower for good. Instead of falling in love with a prince, Karuna narrates the story as a love letter to her child. 

Pung’s writing is intense and powerful. She creates claustrophobia, anger and frustration with her words. Karuna feels things strongly, often bundled up together in a mess of emotions and you are right there with her. She is a bold and daring protagonist who makes mistakes, takes risks and tries to do her best along the way.

One Hundred Days is a strong addition to Australian literary landscape. It’s here to challenge our perceptions of love, family and culture. It’s here to pull on our heartstrings and have us turn each page faster and faster, desperate to know the ending.

4.5 stars: ★★★★☆

One Hundred Days
by Alice Pung
Publisher: Black Inc.
ISBN: 9781760641832
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 256 pages
Publication date: 1 June 2021
RRP: $32.99

Julia Faragher
About the Author
Julia Faragher is an artist, specialising in writing, photography and film. She makes films at Skybound Productions and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Woroni. She was named the Young Canberra Citizen of the Year for Arts and Multimedia 2019.