Devotion by Hannah Kent
Hanne craves another kind of freedom, so inconceivable she can’t give it words. But when she meets Thea, another unconventional teenager, she discovers possibilities beyond her dreams. Perhaps the sounds she hears in nature are a gift, not a curse. Perhaps, while they must marry men and bear children, the bonds between women can be just as physical, and even more strong.
Although I liked Hannah Kent’s acclaimed first novel, Burial Rites, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as others seemed to, but I wanted to give this, her third novel, a chance. With beautiful language, and a sweet but not sentimental story, I was glad I did. Until a midpoint reversal threw me off course. I won’t say what it was for fear of spoilers, but it’s not my usual reading choice.
However, it turned out to be perfect for this author and her themes of love, loyalty, and the European settlement of Australian lands. Given the similar names of author and narrator, it seems worth mentioning that Hannah Kent informs us that she began this novel after Australia voted in favour of same-sex marriage and her girlfriend proposed to her. What a moving celebration of that freedom denied to generations past. (I’m actually tearing up as I write this.)
Not only is this novel the second contender for my books 2022, but I’d bet on it reaching the shortlist of several literary prizes. Thanks to publishers Picador for my advance proof copy.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali
It turns out Yasmin has been nervous about the wrong things. A bond quickly develops between Joe’s flamboyantly disinhibited mother and Yasmin’s unworldly ma. Before the evening’s out, they’ve planned an elaborate wedding a world away from the small-scale secular ceremony the couple actually wants. And the Iman is Harriet’s idea.
As the months go by, Yasmin’s assumptions about herself, her fiancé, her best friend, her work as a doctor and her family are turned upside down. And perhaps some of the reader’s assumptions about what it means to be Muslim in Brexit Britain are also tested. But we have to wait until close to the end, when Yasmin is finally ready, to discover the reality behind the myth of her parents’ romantic love marriage.
Although I loved Monica Ali’s debut, Brick Lane, I hadn’t much enjoyed her second and initially wasn’t sure about this, her fifth book. It seemed too light. Eighty pages in, when we learn that one of his lecturers at university reported Arif to the police for suspected radicalisation (he was actually researching Islamism for his thesis), I was almost shouting at the author to go deeper. But I was too impatient. This novel evolved into an astute and poignant portrait of people trying to do their best with the psychological resources they’ve been given, and hurting each other in the process.
It also gave me another fictional therapist to add to my collection. I found Sandor Bartok, a specialist in sex addiction, convincing, if a little too directive for my personal tastes (but this might have been necessary for the reader’s comprehension). I hadn’t previously come across the term covert incest, although I was all too familiar with the concept of a parent making inappropriate emotional demands of the child (though I’m not sure it helps to label a nonsexual relationship as incest), and I liked how the distinction was made between blaming an emotionally abusive parent for damaging a child and acknowledging their responsibility. Thanks to publishers Virago for my advance proof copy.
In my own coming-of-age novel, Sugar and Snails, a woman’s attraction to a man she meets at a dinner party triggers a tsunami of reassessment regarding her work, her parents, her lifestyle and her best friend.