Book review: The Airways by Jennifer Mills

The first thing that struck me about The Airways is that it was beautiful to read (or listen to in my case). The first time I listened to this book I was so taken by its mellifluousness that I had to visit it a second time for the story. The melody and rhythm of the prose adds to the unsettling, immersive and discombobulating story that explores boundaries, consent, survival, trauma and violence.

I had a body once before. I didn’t always love it. I knew the skins my limit, and there were times I longed to leave it. Days I wanted to claw my way out of the earth, out of this shell. To become something else, something as yet unseen, untethered. To take flight.
I knew better than to wish for this.

Non-binary Yun is murdered just outside their Sydney share house. Their presence leaves their body and inhabits the living by entering their airways. Yun’s ex-housemate, Adam, is socially awkward and creepy. He has a compulsion. He likes to watch people whilst they sleep, he used to watch Yun. Adam goes to Beijing to escape his past, convincing himself he is a good guy and has done nothing wrong. He picks something up on the subway.

Minds are illegible; they read the body. Wet cold prickles under the back, the shirt too thin. Bacteria hitches a ride in the air, clings to a hair in the nostril. They move, are moved, into these discomforts, go where there are openings. (Do they open things?) The body coughs, its whole length poised and racking. The eyes leave the stars and return; the body sits up, relaxes. The joint held aloft. They are in the fingers where the burn will meet the skin. In sweet smoke.

The stories of Yun and Adam swirl around each other shifting between Sydney in a share house of young people in the mid 2000, and Beijing a few years later where Adam has moved to reinvent his life. The story is told from the point of view of Yun’s consciousness or ghost that has the ability to move between bodies as if inhabiting them. They are seeking revenge.

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