Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

35297339This is one of those books that I love so much that it’s hard to review.  I’ll start by saying that if you like stories that mess with narrative and structure, if you like your fiction to be a bit out of the box while remaining beautiful, if you like the Goldsmiths Prize – this is the book for you.  Close this tab now and get your hands on it, and come back when you’re finished so we can discuss.

There is so much to discuss.

Asymmetry has two storylines.  In one a young professional falls in love with an award-winning author, and in the other an Iraqi-American PhD student is being held at immigration at Heathrow Airport.  On the surface there’s nothing in common between the two but the connections dawn on you as you read.

It’s delicious, and these connections are my favorite part of the book.  After finishing I immediately went back to my highlights and they took on new meaning.  I would open to a random page and find a line that illuminated the narrative in an entirely different light.  My favorite books are onions, with layers of insight, and Asymmetry is just that, roughly chopped into pieces and tossed in the most beguiling way.

The themes run the gamut from what it means to be an artist to post 9/11 politics to, as you could guess, asymmetries of all sorts.  And the writing!  The dialogue is smart and flowing yet doesn’t strain credibility.

For all his assurances, he himself became gloomy.  Not without pleasure, Alice felt herself being tested by these dramatic circumstances.

“Of course,” she said, “we all have to worry.  I could get cancer. Or tomorrow, in the street, you could be–”

He closed his eyes and held up a hand. “I already know about the bus.”

I love the insights as well, and they’re often laced with humor.

Then, going cheerfully around the room, he would switch off the phone, the fax, the lights, pour himself a glass of chocolate soymilk, and count out a small pile of pills.  “The older you get,” he explained, “the more you have to do before you can go to bed.  I’m up to one hundred things.”

The writing style changes from section to section and while I respect the reason I feel the middle part falls oh-so-slightly flat in comparison with the beginning and end.  That’s my only complaint, though.  It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.

I can’t wait to reread Asymmetry, and I can’t wait for you guys to read it so we can get in all kinds of discussions about it.  Perfect for those who like the slightly unconventional, book clubs, or anyone that enjoys their mind being gently twisted as they read.  Highly recommended.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.