Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Given the fact of the seemingly relentless media revelations of exploitation in all sorts of industries, I can’t think of a better time to read a smart book about uneven power dynamics. Lisa Halliday has written an entertaining, provocative and structurally innovative novel told in three parts. ‘Folly’ tells the tale of Alice, a twenty-something woman working in publishing who begins a relationship with a famous and much older male novelist, Ezra Blazer. ‘Madness’ takes us to the interrogation room at Heathrow Airport as Amar, an Iraqi-American economist, tries to transit through the UK on his way to visit family in Kurdistan. The final and briefest section, entitled ‘Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs’, transcribes a radio interview with the aforementioned author.
How these three elements are connected is key to the originality and brilliance of this novel, and I don’t want to spoil the discovery for you, dear reader. Moreover, since I read an advance copy of this book well before reviews and author interviews began to appear, I will also refrain from telling you a fact about the novel that I only discovered after I read it, which made me think again (and again and again) about what I had read (if you can’t bear that teaser, there is much to examine online about this novel, but try to resist and enhance your experience).
Halliday is funny and clever and incisive in her analysis of these everyday experiences of asymmetry, playing with notions of power and empowerment, free will and control. She also challenges assumptions about what a novel is and what it can do – not in homage to that masculine tradition in which, quite frankly, an author like Ezra Blazer might wish to reside, but in a way so unexpected as to provide a supremely effective critique of our times and our role as reading subjects. Read this book now to get ahead of the curve, because I feel sure we’ll see it on prize shortlists in the year ahead.