Asylum Road

Olivia Sudjic

Asylum Road
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Asylum Road

Olivia Sudjic

A couple drive from London to coastal Provence. Anya is preoccupied with what she feels is a relationship on the verge; unequal, precarious. Luke, reserved, stoic, gives away nothing. As the sun sets one evening, he proposes, and they return to London engaged.

But planning a wedding does little to settle Anya’s unease. As a child, she escaped from Sarajevo, and the idea of security is as alien now as it was then. When social convention forces Anya to return, she begins to change. The past she sought to contain for as long as she can remember resurfaces, and the hot summer builds to a startling climax. Lean, sly and unsettling, Asylum Road is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos.

What happens, and who do we become, when they break down?

Review

Even after five years together the only time Luke and Anya are at ease in one another’s company is when they’re listening to true crime podcasts together. Driving from London to Provence for a romantic getaway, Anya notes that ‘sometimes it felt like the murders kept us together’. Despite this unease, Luke proposes and they return home engaged. But there is a spectre haunting the relationship. It haunts the whole novel. As a child, Anya escaped war-torn Bosnia and the trauma lingers. As the novel progresses we witness a relationship (and a woman) on the brink of disaster.

This is a novel in motion; much like Anya, it cannot settle. The most compelling and moving incidents in the novel occur when the couple is displaced from their London home and we travel with them to Provence, Cornwall and Sarajevo. If motion propels the novel, then stasis is its only drawback: Anya’s life in London just isn’t as engaging. However, this is a small complaint of an otherwise brilliant novel.

I wasn’t familiar with Olivia Sudjic’s writing but I’m now determined to read everything she has ever written. The language in Asylum Road is reminiscent of Ottessa Moshfegh’s work: lyrical and beautiful but with a sense of dread and decay lingering under the surface. Like Moshfegh, there is also a dark, cynical sense of humour running through the novel that saves it from descending into melodrama. Musing on the subject of surnames, Anya notes that her favourite author ‘had become Bedford by one of those strategic marriages that happened between Jews and gays in the 1930s’. Cynicism is excused here as the reader is in on the joke.

Asylum Road is not for the faint of heart, but it is hugely rewarding for those willing to take the leap. It is a stunning example of where the novel as a form is today.


Tristen Brudy is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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