Review: The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

The Boundless Sublime book cover

A dark and thrilling read that ventures deep into the heart of a sinister, suburban cult.

Genre: Contemporary YA

The Blurb

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox—a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to find peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Boundless Sublime—and spending more time with Fox means spending more time with his ‘family’. Soon Ruby is drawn into what she discovers is a terrifying, secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can she find the courage to leave? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Boundless Sublime?

We book bloggers often complain about the (admittedly wonderful) problem of the overwhelming TBR pile. It’s a problem because (for me at least) there simply isn’t time to read all the fabulous new releases I so desperately want to get to each month, let alone all the older titles on my wish list. Last year, I read new releases almost exclusively, but this year I’m trying to mix it up, hunting down titles that I’ve been meaning to get to for aaaaaagggggeeeeeesss as well as enjoying the review copies publishers are kind enough to send my way.

The Boundless Sublime (Allen & Unwin, 2016) was one of the many new releases I had on my 2016 ‘Want to Read’ list and didn’t quite get to, but after reading Lili Wilkinson’s story ‘Oona Underground’ in Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, I  took myself down to Dymocks and picked up a copy.

I deeply regret that it took me so long to finally get to it! This story is so deliciously sinister and creepy. I wrote my PhD on Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and other campus clique crime novels, and I’m endlessly fascinated by cults, cliques and secret societies, specifically the way these groups appeal to the vulnerable and alter their members’ perception of reality. So The Boundless Sublime is exactly my kind of read.

The thing that I enjoyed most about this story is that Ruby isn’t blind. She knows that the Institute of the Boundless Sublime is a cult and that its leader, Zosimon, is peddling some serious BS. Yet she still gets drawn in, and Wilkinson cleverly explores how the cult, for all its craziness, gives Ruby the things she desires most: a sense of belonging and a ‘family’ who loves and values her. It’s also a place where she can cast off the guilt she feels over her brother’s death and be viewed as extraordinary.

Wilkinson does a bang-up job of showing how cults work, preying on the vulnerable, isolating members from the wider community and building the kind of mythologies that—while often sounding completely batshit to outsiders—are also tricky to disprove. I’m about as sceptical as they come, but there were several points in The Boundless Sublime where I found myself questioning, ‘What if the Sublimates are right?’ Before giving myself a swift slap to the side of the head as a reminder that, um, no, these people are dangerous. I particularly admired the way Wilkinson portrays the cult’s leader, Zosimon. As you’d imagine, he’s a power-hungry a-hole, BUT he also believes his own bullshit to some extent—and that adds depth to his character and makes him really frightening.

In fact, all the characters in The Boundless Sublime are exceptionally well-drawn and complex. Ruby, in particular, is a challenging narrator because she’s not particularly likable. In fact, she does some really horrible things. Most of the characters do. But Wilkinson is very careful to clearly show their motivations in a way that incites empathy in her reader, even if they disagree with the characters’ choices.

The relationships in this story are also really meaty, and the romance between Ruby and Fox is deftly handled. I’ve complained elsewhere on this blog about YA romances that come across as too easy or saccharine, or that are used as a convenient route to ‘happily ever after’. By contrast, Ruby and Fox’s relationship is always problematic: they’re intensely attracted to each other but both have experienced severe trauma and for much of the story exist in a state of extreme stress. They’re not really capable of looking after themselves, and so they fail each other in ways they don’t intend. It felt very real. And if they are ultimately going to find a way to be together, they’ll have to work for it.

I also loved The Boundless Sublime simply for the fact that it’s a gripping read. In the early chapters, there’s an ominous sense of foreboding, and when Ruby arrives at the Institute, it’s like reaching the top of a roller coaster and plunging down. And fair warning: this book is dark.

The only bit that I found slightly unrealistic was the brief appearance of a gun, as Ruby herself notes: ‘I stared at it uncomprehending. A gun. … It didn’t seem real. Guns weren’t something that people just had, lying around. Guns were on television. In movies. Not in real life.’ And Ruby’s right. Getting hold of a gun in this country, particularly a handgun, is no easy feat. Even when we see them onscreen, it’s usually in American shows and films. When they do appear in Australian narratives, it’s shocking and surreal, and in this case, it pulled me out of the story for a minute. But only a minute.

I’m really glad I finally got my bum into gear and read The Boundless Sublime. It’s been one of my favourite reads so far this year, and another really great example of why I #LoveOzYA.Five stars

See The Boundless Sublime on Goodreads and purchase through AmazonBooktopia or Book Depository.

Thanks to Grammarly for picking up nine critical issues and eleven advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!

—Margot XO 

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