Laura Rereading: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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Before re-reading: I first read A Visit From The Goon Squad in June 2011, when I was 24, and can only remember two things about it now. One: that it’s told with a crazy variety of styles and narrators, including a chapter composed of Powerpoint slides. Two: that near the end of the novel a man is looking out at the skyscraper that is gradually being erected next to his own building and anticipating how his beautiful view will be slowly blocked out as each storey is added.

A Visit From The Goon Squad is essentially about the arbitariness of time – how things can be so different when only time separates Point A and Point B – so it feels like an especially suitable book to look back on. When I first reviewed A Visit From The Goon Squad, I wrote that it ‘follows the stories of various characters who are loosely linked to each other over a fifty-year period in the USA…a fantastic read’. 

BUT: in my personal reading log I rated it four and a half stars for quality but only four stars for enjoyment, which is a pretty big tell, and my only physical memory of reading this book is getting to the Powerpoint chapter on a train from London to Cambridge, where I was living at the time, and feeling relieved that this meant the rest of the book would go by much more quickly than I had anticipated.

So, after re-reading, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise that I no longer get along well with this book at all. The Powerpoint chapter, which focuses on the power of pauses in rock songs through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, is still genius. Alison’s brother is obsessed with measuring pauses in rock songs and playing them on loop, so he listens to what is essentially a series of silences that are weightier than if they really were just silence. Their dad, who comes and goes a lot from his important job, doesn’t understand his son’s obsession with pauses, and eventually gets frustrated that he won’t stop going on about them and tells him to stop. At that point, their mum snaps:

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Honestly, I’m going to keep my copy of this book just so I can read this chapter again, but part of the problem here is that Egan manages to say everything she wanted to say in the rest of the book about why time matters, and hence renders the rest of her novel redundant, which is pretty satisfying on a meta level but not great for her or her readers. This time round, I found the many earlier chapters that focus on the dissipated lives of a group of people working in the music business an irritating slog.

(Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, the book DOES end with a skyscraper being built, which is another nice vignette, returning to the theme of incremental intervals of time leading to an absolute difference:

When he stood close to the middle window and looked straight up, he could see the top of the Empire State Building, lit tonight in red and gold… the squat building their own overlooked had been bought by a developer who planned to raze it and build a skyscraper that would seal off their air and light… And now, two years later, the skyscraper had at last begun to rise, a fact that filled Alex with dread and doom but also a vertiginous sweetness – every instant of warm sunlight through their three east-facing windows felt delicious…

The construction now covered the bottom halves of his windows, its shafts and beams a craggy silhouette beyond which the prong of the Empire State Building was still just visible. In a few days, it would be gone.)

Rating in 2011: ****

Rating in 2020: ***

I re-read A Visit From The Goon Squad as part of a buddy read with Bookish Beck.

‘Speaking Nearby’ Ourselves: Cathy Park Hong

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I’m not sure that the title and blurb of Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings give a completely accurate impression of what the book is about – in short, I can see someone picking this up expecting a meditation on the Korean American immigrant ‘experience’, and instead, encountering a series of essays that are much more concerned with making art while happening to be Korean American. Indeed, part of Hong’s achievement here is to demonstrate the deadness of familiar questions such as ‘Can white people write characters of colour?’ and to say much more interesting things about writing from your own and from others’ experiences, in conversation with other female Asian artists. For example, she writes:

‘Rather than “speaking about” a culture outside your experience, the filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha suggests we “speak nearby”. In an interview for Artforum, Trinh says: “When you decide to speak nearby, rather than speak about, the first thing you need to do is to acknowledge the possible gap between you and the who populate your film… You can only speak nearby, in proximity… which requires that you deliberately suspend meaning… This allows the other person to come in and fill that space as they wish.”‘

Hong uses Trinh’s insights to try and turn the conversation away from the inevitable focus upon white writers writing ‘outside their lane’, arguing: ‘I am only capable of “speaking nearby” the Asian American condition… I can’t stretch myself across it.’ (I found Jeannette Ng’s essay, ‘On Identity, Performing Marginalisations and the Limitations of #OwnVoices’ interesting in this context, reflecting some of Hong’s concerns about the power of the ‘single story’, or what happens when only immigrant narratives palatable to white audiences are told and retold).

Minor Feelings wrestles with the question of how artists should and can use their own experience, especially female artists of colour who risk being totally defined by it; what Nesrine Malik has called always writing ‘as a’. One of Hong’s closest friends as a young artist, Erin, insists on keeping some tragic events in her own past completely private: ‘If you reveal anything, they collapse your art with your life – and I don’t want my autobiography hijacking my art. Maybe back then, my loss was a deep part of me but I have worked really hard to separate my work and my identity from that loss.’ In another essay, Hong further interrogates these ideas through an exploration of the life and work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, an artist and poet who worked in America but who was originally from South Korea, and who was raped and murdered at the age of thirty-one in 1982. Cha’s Dictee has become ‘a seminal book in Asian American literature… taught widely in universities’, but, Hong found, scholars are reluctant to talk about Cha’s death or to read her book as autobiographical because they feel this context devalues her art. ‘But where does the silence that neglects her end and where does the silence that respects her begin?’ Hong asks.

Because I’m fascinated by writing about art-making, I loved the turn that Minor Feelings took after the first couple of essays, which were equally strongly written but made points that were relatively more familiar to me (the denial of ‘innocence’ to children of colour; the ‘underachievement’ of black children in formal education in the US; the awkward position of Asian Americans, who are conceptualised as a ‘model minority’, privileged at the expense of African Americans, but who are also subject to racist stereotypes of passivity and authoritarianism, and told to “go home”). Hong is especially good at placing her work in dialogue with a longer tradition of female Asian American writing about art and emphasising that this is completely natural, remembering her good fortune in being college-educated in the US in the mid to late nineties: ‘Of course I read Theresa Hak Kyung Cha alongside William Carlos Williams in poetry class. I didn’t study the performances of Guillermo Gómez-Peña because I needed a sample of the “Chicano experience” like a vitamin supplement. I studied these writers and artists because they were the most interesting thinkers’.

Therefore, Minor Feelings itself becomes a subtle rebuke to those who read it looking for a certain kind of book, one that will somehow illuminate the Korean-American or, even more ridiculous, the Asian-American ‘experience’. As Hong argues, this can’t be done. But this brilliantly intelligent collection of essays is an important intervention in ongoing debates about race, identity and art.

I received a free proof copy of this essay collection from the publisher for review. It’s out in the UK on March 5th.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Reading Plans and Predictions

As usual, I will be following the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year: the longlist will be announced on 3rd March and the shortlist on 22nd April. 

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This year, there’s a bit of a twist in the tale, as the Prize is also celebrating its 25-year anniversary and so has set up a #ReadingWomen challenge, inviting readers to read the 24 previous winners of the prize and planning to crown an overall winner in the autumn. This is not the first time the Prize has done something like this – Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun won the ‘Best of the Best’ of the first and second decades of winners respectively in 2015 – but the fact that they’re pitting all the previous winners against each other makes this set-up a bit more satisfying.

Therefore, this year I’ll be aiming to read the majority of the Women’s Prize 2020 longlist and the five previous winners that I haven’t yet read, though I’ll definitely be prioritising the longlist.

Previous Winners

The five previous winners that I haven’t read are Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter (1996), Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces (1997), Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection (2001), Valerie Martin’s Property (2003) and Rose Tremain’s The Road Home (2008). There are reasons for this. I don’t rate Dunmore and Tremain as adult fiction writers (I haven’t read Dunmore’s poetry, and I like some of her children’s fiction!), and I’m tired of novels about the Holocaust and slavery. However, I’ve been wanting to read the Grenville for ages… so I’m looking forward to that one.

Predictions for the 2020 Longlist

This feels like a difficult year for predictions. There are so many ‘big books’ that could dominate the list, but on the other hand, I imagine we’ll have at least one surprising omission, as presumably the Prize won’t want a list that is consumed by books that have already had a lot of coverage and/or are by very well-known authors. At least, I hope so.

As ever, then, this is a mix of a prediction list and a wishlist, from a ‘best possible world’ where the Prize follows its usual parameters and preferences but picks as many as possible of the books I like or am interested in. (I have obviously included books (*) that I haven’t yet read.)

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.
  • Inland by Tea Obreht.
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.*
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.
  • Akin by Emma Donoghue.
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.*
  • Far Field by Madhuri Vijay.*
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.*
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz.*
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi.*
  • Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.*
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste.*
  • Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid.*
  • The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld.*
  • The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson.

Do you have any predictions for the Prize?

Have I highlighted any books that aren’t actually eligible in 2020 (this usually happens at least once in my predictions)?

And is it even remotely possible that we may not have to think about The Testaments again?

John Murray Proof Party @ Durham Book Festival: Reading Report

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Last autumn, I went to the John Murray Proof Party  at the Durham Book Festival, heard three fascinating women talk about their upcoming early 2020 novels, and picked up free copies of the books (published by John Murray’s Two Roads imprint) in a great tote bag. I’ve now read all three and am here to report back!

In reverse order of preference…

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I found Guinevere Glasfurd’s account of the research and background to her second book, The Year Without Summer, the most engaging to listen to at the festival. Set in 1815 and 1816, the novel explores the aftermath of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia through multiple narrative voices scattered across the globe. I loved the idea of protagonists linked by an abrupt and disastrous change in climate – the eruption led to cold, stormy weather and crop failures across Europe and North America as the rising ash cloud covered the sun. However, I didn’t feel that Glasfurd pulled off this incredibly ambitious premise – the reader’s attention is simply too divided, and the only narrator who really came to life for me was Fenland farm labourer Sarah.

The Year Without Summer is out now.

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I was least interested in reading Karen Raney’s debut, All the Water in the World, simply because I thought that the premise – a teenage girl facing cancer – was so familiar in fiction. However, the novel is also an intelligent look at a close mother-daughter relationship that comes under intense strain. The book alternates between the mother Eve and daughter Maddy’s perspectives, and between the present and the past. Both Eve and Maddy are refreshing narrators; they avoid falling into the tropes that they might have occupied (distressed mother who is characterised as nothing but a mother; self-absorbed and rebellious teenager). Raney doesn’t bring anything especially new to the table, except a few interesting chapters on Maddy’s involvement in the climate protest movement and how she relates the climate catastrophe to her own impending death, but she writes well, so I’d be interested to see what she does next.

All the Water in the World is out now.

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Having very much enjoyed Sally Magnusson’s debut, The Sealwoman’s Gift, I was excited to get hold of a copy of her next novel, The Ninth Child, and it didn’t disappoint. Set in the late 1850s, the novel focuses on an ambitious engineering project at Loch Katrine that aims to supply fresh water to Glasgow to reduce the impact of cholera epidemics in the city. Isabel Aird has been drawn reluctantly into the project after her husband accepts the post of doctor, serving the navvies who are frequently injured in the course of the excavation. Purposeless and lonely, Isabel nurses the silent grief of a series of stillbirths. She is drawn in by a charismatic minister, Robert Kirke, who mysteriously appears and disappears on the shores of the loch. Kirsty, a displaced Highlander working for the Aird family, watches Isabel and Robert anxiously; she knows much about the fairy folk, and suspects that Robert has a dark history and an even darker purpose.

Magnusson pulls together what might seem to be a rather unlikely premise with great skill. For once, comparisons to Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent are fully deserved – if anything, I liked The Ninth Child better, because it treads more original medical historical ground and because its central protagonist is much more appealingly flawed. I especially enjoyed a small side-plot about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visiting the area to marvel at the skill of the works – both royal narrators are hilarious! I wondered if Magnusson’s use of multiple voices might also make this novel feel too fragmented – there are a number of omniscient sections alongside bits from the royals, Isabel, Kirsty and Robert – but it somehow all works, although Kirsty is very much a member of the supporting cast rather than having a character arc of her own, which is a bit of a shame. Still, totally absorbing.

The Ninth Child is out on 19th March.

Have you read any of these novels? What did you think?

Laura Rereading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

One of my 2020 reading resolutions is to do more re-reading. It’s taken me until February to re-read my first novel of the year, but I’ve finally got started!

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Before re-reading: I first read this in August 2013, when I was 26. I bought it from Mr B’s bookshop in Bath and then started reading it on one of those fake beaches that some English towns and cities set up, sitting on a deckchair in the middle of the pavement. (As it turns out, this was a PERFECT location to start this novel). However, although I had incredibly fond and vivid memories of the experience of reading Beautiful Ruins, I remembered almost nothing about the novel itself, other than it was funny and had a great cover.

The first time I read Beautiful Ruins, I wrote that the novel is about a meeting between ‘Italian fisherman and hopeful hotelier Pasquale‘ and ‘American starlet Dee Moray [in 1962]… an encounter that [Pasquale] will never forget, even fifty years later. However, Pasquale already has one doomed love affair behind him, separated from his first love, Amedea, and from his son Bruce. In the present day, Claire Silver struggles with her role as a film development assistant, longing to be involved in the production of at least one movie she really believes in; will aspiring scriptwriter Shane’s pitch about the controversial historical figure of William Eddy be the one? Meanwhile, her boss, Michael Deane, has written a failed memoir of his own. A few years earlier, musician and comedian Pat also struggles to restart his career by a last-ditch tour at the Edinburgh Festival, while around the time of Pasquale and Dee’s first meeting, writer Alvis Bender reworks the single chapter of his novel that he has managed to produce over and over again.’

My first review of this novel focused heavily on the idea that it is a ‘complex mess’ of plots, very few of which have firm conclusions, arguing that I enjoyed these loose ends and was actually quite disappointed that Pasquale and Dee’s story was more neatly tied up. I also got quite interested in the different fictional techniques that Walter uses to tell the stories of these different characters – film scripts, war memoirs, pitches and plays. I also emphasised what I still think is the central point of this novel: ‘The parallel stories of ruination traced across the lives of Alvis, Pat and Shane seemed to me to speak most interestingly about the questions raised by Walter’s concept of lives as inevitable “failures”‘.

After re-reading: While I don’t exactly disagree with my previous review of Beautiful Ruins, I was struck by how much better Pasquale and Dee’s story worked for me this time round. The two characters are, as Walter intended, the emotional heart of the novel, and I think, while their story may have the neatest ending, it also provides a great counterpoint to what would otherwise be a too-neat message of the novel: the idea that everyone’s lives are ‘beautiful ruins’. Pasquale makes a key moral choice near the end of this novel that feels both heartbreaking and uplifting, and it was this scene that really struck me when I re-read this book. While Pasquale’s life has not turned out like he planned, I don’t believe it can be seen to be ‘ruined’; he has done what he thought was right, and ends up surrounded by a happy family in his old age.

I’m not sure why I found it so much easier to invest emotionally in Pasquale, in particular, this time around. Maybe I’m simply getting softer in my old age (!!) or perhaps this novel came to me this time round when I felt especially ready to be moved. I think one big advantage of re-reads is that you can match them so much more closely to your emotional mood, partly because there isn’t the pressure of reading a new title and partly because you already have a sense of what they contain. At any rate, I hesitated a little while before reading the final scene of Beautiful Ruins, wanting to make sure that I was in the right headspace to fully appreciate it. 

Rating in 2013: ****

Rating in 2020: ****1/2

 

Some Forthcoming February Novels: girls, schools, sex and death

Looking ahead to three February releases that share a lot of common themes – and none of which quite worked for me, although some came closer than others.

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Clare Beams’ debut novel, The Illness Lesson, is set in Massachusetts in 1871 and is narrated in the third person by Caroline, an unmarried woman in her late twenties who still lives with her father, Samuel, and feels stifled by the narrowness of her life; as she reflects when lying in bed ‘where she lay in the same darkness that had covered her at twenty-four, eighteen, twelve, eight, the walls and ceiling of her room like a box that fit her’. Caroline’s world promises to change when Samuel starts a progressive school for young ladies in their home, aiming to teach them such masculine subjects as Greek and philosophy, and recruiting Caroline to teach English literature. However, the presence of the girls, coupled with the strange behaviour of the trilling hearts, the imaginary species of bird that haunt the school’s environs, starts to stir up old secrets from the past and new tensions in the present.

The Illness Lesson’s blurb foregrounds the group of students, but this is really Caroline’s story, and she’s a convincing narrator, acutely aware of the loneliness of her position as intellectual companion to her father, and unsure whether it is fair to educate girls in a world that does not give them the opportunity to exercise their talents. Beams is a skilful writer, and the quiet prose is consistently vivid and impressive. The problem for me was that the story the novel focuses on is so familiar. There have been lots of post-Victorian fictions about female hysteria and its abusive treatments, and I didn’t think that this one brought anything very new, even though it is elevated by Beams’ careful telling.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review. It’s out on February 6th.

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This is a weird and refreshing little book that doesn’t follow the normal rules of this kind of fiction. It starts off in a relatively familiar space; our protagonist has a very literary name (Henna) and is doing a very literary job (writing encyclopaedia entries for a publisher on water and ice) after her parents and twin sister Claire died in a very literary way (being lost at sea). The first chapter made me think that The Snow Collectors would be full of the kind of drifty, quasi-magical prose that you find in writers like Alice Hoffman. However, this book, and Hall’s writing, actually sits in a more interesting space. While there are sentences that stray into sentimentality – ‘his palm was dry and warm, speckled with grains of salt which rolled between our joined hands like secrets we hadn’t told yet’ – there are other, much more robust, passages that are more typical of the novel: ‘Attached to the gas station near the interstate was a Dunkin’ Donuts, and I sat at the counter and sipped coffee with skim milk… By the counter of the gas station was a display of souvenirs. Apples dangling from key chains and packets of pancake mix, resin moose and dead skyscrapers in globes of water… Everything smelled the chemical scent of strawberry air freshener. The clerk wished a nice day on everyone, as if it were a curse.’

The Snow Collectors is also weird because it doesn’t seem to be set in either our present or the future. There’s a fantastical air to the world that Hall has created – Claire used to be able to hold her breath for four days – but there’s also a SF hint to the near-future Alaskan setting, where bees are gone and the rest of the US never sees snow. It also shoots off in some unexpected directions. The death of Claire, and of Henna’s parents, barely impinges on the plot, except to give Henna a plausible reason to be so isolated. Instead, the book revolves around a dead girl found in the woods and an archive concerning the lost John Franklin Arctic expedition that is held in the town. In between Henna’s chapters, we get short but captivating glimpses of Jane Franklin, who kept up the search for her husband long after everyone else had given up hope. Ultimately, this felt a little incomplete to me, as if it hadn’t quite been imagined fully enough, but there’s enough promise here that I’d definitely be interested in reading whatever Hall writes next.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review. It’s out on February 12th.

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The Temple House Vanishing is billed as a novel set in an elite Catholic girls’ boarding school in Ireland in 1990, where creepy nuns rule the roost but attractive art teacher Mr Lavelle offers a possibility of escape. It’s surprising how little of this the novel actually delivers on. Louisa arrives at the school as a scholarship girl and forms an intensive friendship with Victoria; both are drawn into Mr Lavelle’s orbit and become somewhat set apart from the other girls. A second plot thread is narrated by a journalist who is investigating the disappearance of Louisa and Mr Lavelle, now decades in the past; she really wants to contact Victoria, but Victoria isn’t talking.

I love school settings, but The Temple House Vanishing doesn’t conjure up any sense of place or time. The scenes at the school could have been set at any time in the past seventy years (and indeed, feel rather earlier than 1990; while the school itself is supposed to be stuck in the past, there’s not much sense that this causes any disjuncture with the pupils’ ordinary lives). I’m only guessing that it’s set in Ireland because of the fact that the author, Rachel Donohue, is from Dublin. Finally, the nuns have very little presence on the page; we’re told that ‘they weakened you with mind games and nightmares about limbo, and hell’, but this is never actually shown. Throughout, the prose is formal, eschewing contractions in a way that could have worked had it been confined to the narration and dialogue of a single character, but feels ponderous when generalised; here’s the journalist having an inconsequential conversation with her intern:

“Are you coming to the drinks on Friday?” she asked.

I doubt it, might have to go away this weekend,” I said.

No-one thinks you will come,” she answered.

I am predictable that way,” I said.

With so many options of boarding-school or university-set novels to read in 2020, I can’t say that I particularly recommend this one.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review. It’s out on February 20th.

‘Gleefully narrating the events of last night’

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Jai is nine years old and lives with his family in the slums of New Delhi. He loves watching reality cop shows, especially Police Patrol (presumably a fictionalised version of Crime Patrol), waits hungrily for his mother to bring back special food from her job as a maid in one of the ‘hi-fi’ flats of the city, and is watched over by his older sister, Runu, who dreams of becoming a successful runner and winning a sports scholarship that will allow her to escape. When children start disappearing from Jai’s basti, he forms a detective gang with his two best friends, Pari and Faiz, and they determine to find out what is happening. Their investigations take them onto the Metro’s Purple Line, into a part of the city they have never been before. Jai is convinced that there may be something supernatural at work, and that the children may have been snatched by the hungry djinns that are said to hunt at night. Framed by the fact that around 180 children in India go missing every day (although this article explains that the reasons behind this statistic are complex, and not all of these children are abducted), this debut novel is unafraid to highlight the limited interest from the Indian media in the fate of poor kids and to go to some very dark places. Indeed, I found this one of the most upsetting things I have read for some time.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line draws from Deepa Anappara’s own origins in Kerala and her experience of working as a journalist in India for eleven years, and, as expected, is rich in detail. Anappara slips seamlessly between English and Hindi in such a way that the language of the novel is never difficult to follow, and Jai’s basti is vividly brought to life. Anappara has written thoughtfully about the difficulties of inhabiting the voice of a poor urban child, even given her own background and experience, in the Times [paywalled], an article that feels even more salient given the recent reviews of Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt.I had been concerned that any representation of a marginalised, vulnerable community in India risked stereotyping or romanticising their difficult circumstances’, she writes, recounting that ‘I had witnessed how children’s voices had been absent from the news reports about their disappearances, and I wanted to reframe the narrative so they would be at the heart of it.’ Ultimately, she writes, it was only after her sibling was diagnosed with incurable cancer that she really felt at one with Jai, and his need to tell stories about the world to make sense of the horrors he witnesses.

Although I can’t comment on how accurate Anappara’s depiction of the New Delhi slums actually is, I do think that she has successfully achieved her aim of not writing ‘poverty porn’. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line presents a diverse cast of characters not defined by their personal circumstances, and also pays close attention to the social and economic hierarchies within the basti, rather than presenting a mass of human misery. When Jai visits the home of the first boy who disappears, Bahadur, he notes that Bahadur’s family must be better off than his because they have ‘more of everything: more clothes hanging from the clothes lines above us, more upturned pots and pans… more framed photos of gods on the walls, the glass turning sooty because of the joss sticks stuck into the corners of the frames, a bigger TV, and even a fridge’. The novel is also attentive to anti-Muslim feeling among the predominantly Hindu population.

If there was something about this novel that made me feel a bit uncertain, it was Jai’s voice, which feels too much like the kind of chirpy, cliched child narrator I’ve read in many other novels set in wildly different times and places. A brief segment of narration from his older sister Runu sets this into context somewhat, giving us a very necessary external viewpoint on Jai. After a family argument where she is slapped by her father, she sees her brother ‘gleefully narrating the events of last night’ to his friends and reflects that ‘Since he had been born, she had considered Jai with a blend of loathing and admiration; it seemed to her that he had a way of softening the imperfections of life with his daydreams and the self-confidence that the world granted boys’. The first two-thirds of this novel are overlong, with Jai’s rambling narration becoming a bit frustrating, but the interspersed sections from other narrators are much stronger, especially those that relate urban legends from the basti – I was especially gripped by the tale of Junction-ki-Rani, who is said to stand guard at highway junctions to protect women who are threatened by men. And to be fair, the harrowing ending justifies much of the build-up, even if this could still probably have been achieved in a shorter page count. I’ve rarely read a final chapter that stayed with me so long, and that’s probably the great achievement of Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line.

I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review. It’s out in the UK on January 30th.