Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie
My initial reservations about the novel’s focus on privileged schoolgirls dissipated quickly as they grappled with the onset of puberty in a conservative society and the limits on freedom of speech. Her grandfather’s favourite in a family with no male heirs, Maryam has been promised she’ll inherit the firm. As Maryam willingly embraces the dirty side of business, Zahra is terrified her father, a prominent radio journalist, will be arrested and tortured for failing to toe the official line.
Growing up to lead a civil liberties organisation, Zahra tries to warn the British public where their hostile environment for migrants could lead. Maryam, heading up a tech firm, sacrifices principles for profit without qualm. When a ghost from their past gatecrashes her party, her drive for revenge shakes their friendship to its roots.
I found this a profoundly moral story of corruption and compromise, loyalty and individuality, and the unconscious motivations that can lead us astray.
Fox Fires by Wyl Menmuir
When her mother leaves their sumptuous apartment to go to a rehearsal, Wren packs her passport and a mechanical doll she’s told belonged to her father and begins her search. It’s tricky as she has little to go on, can’t (yet) speak the language and the city is a labyrinth with no available map.
This short novel, published by Salt, was the perfect read for someone like me who enjoys the quirky but hasn’t the patience for the overly obscure. The gentle pared-back style draws the reader in, creating a sense of literary safety, even if you don’t completely understand what’s going on.
The city itself is unsettling, with half the inhabitants spying on the others and vague references to barely acknowledged atrocities during the recent civil war. Meanwhile, Wren is on a quest to find not only her father but to find herself, free from her mother’s shadow. But, as she is watching the citizens, she too is being watched.
I’d like to fathom its deeper meaning but, right now, I’m simply happy that I enjoyed it. I’d sum it up as a coming-of-age story about secrets and entrapment and finding your own way out.