Title: The Boundless Sublime
Author: Lili Wilkinson
Publication date: July 27, 2016
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
(Australian) RRP: $19.99
Another amazing book by Lili Wilkinson, The Boundless Sublime centres on Ruby who is going through a serious situation, life is draining from her but when she meets an intriguing guy named Fox, she starts to recover and soon joins his commune. But something is strange about this group and their way of life, leading her to be wary of their leader Zosimon, also known as “Daddy” by the commune – that should already put you off. Despite being cautious, Ruby becomes drawn, too deep, to the group that she starts to lose her independence and her individuality while Fox becomes more self-aware and is afraid for her.
The Boundless Sublime explores the experience of being in a cult and maybe a warning to be cautious around charismatic people who are good with words. The writing and voice created a suffocating feel, everything closing in, and as it’s in first person narrative, the book can be confronting or make you uncomfortable. The character development is thorough and frustrated me at the same time as the characters grow but also they fall, they grow again through an unhealthy method (to them it’s healthy, the only way), they fall again and deal with the aftermath in the end, still in the healing process.
Even though Ruby is young, recovering from trauma and aches for something that would get her back on her feet, she falls for Zosimon’s promises despite being clever enough to be skeptical. Yes, I did want to slap her for being stupid and Zosimon degrading her into a child’s state of mind (Ruby calling Zosimon Daddy made me cringe). Once I calmed down, I understood that she’s vulnerable and Zosimon preys on that and brainwashes her through violence and promises of lifting her up. Rather than having her be a mindless convert, Ruby shows doubt and becomes conflicted as Zosimon becomes more radical in his methods to silence dissenters and get what he wants.
I liked how little pieces of clues on the commune being sketchy were scattered through the book. It was enough to say that this wasn’t a typical cult story, that this cult wasn’t one-dimensional. There were so many things going on, so many reasons behind the cult’s purpose. There are members who aren’t exactly obedient and empty-headed. Fox rubbed me in the wrong way at first but he prove to be a complex character. The clues from the key members contradicting themselves to blank/scared expressions on the members’ faces keep you guessing.
Another thing I picked up on the cult is how visible misogyny, the double standards regarding sex and purity, and male entitlement within it are. Being in a seclusive community and having the perpetrator as the leader whom everyone worships makes these issues worse. I liked how they were carefully woven into the story.
If you love mystery, suspense or a refreshing cult story, then you’ll love The Boundless Sublime. Just remember to guard your mind and heart.